Observing is the Heart of
Amateur Astronomy

The American Association of
 Amateur Astronomers

Serving the Amateur Astronomy Community
Since 1996

The AAAA Online Store

Home ] Up ] Explore AAAA ] Table of Contents ] Site Index ] Welcome to the AAAA ] Astronomy Links ] AAAA News Page ] C.L.A.S.S. ] Light Pollution ] FAQ Index ] News and Activities ] AAAA Observing Reports ] AAAA Partnerships ] AAAA  Newlsetter ] Constellation Home Page ] Solar System Data Page ] History of Astronomy ] SWRAL ] Astronomical League ] Search AAAA ]


Search AAAA

The AAAA Universe
Start Here

The AAAA Online Store

Join the AAAA

Control Center
Site Table of Contents

AAAA Members
  Reports and Activities

Frequently Asked Questions

to Astronomy Sites

Fight Light Pollution
Be Part of the Solution

Observing Programs
from the  Astronomical League 

News from the AAAA
Press Releases and News Updates

Overview of Astronomy
A Concise Guide to the Universe

The Solar System
Planetary Data Page

The Constellation 
Home Page
Data, Myths and Background
Arp Peculiar Galaxies
A CCD Image Gallery
The American Astronomer 
The AAAA  Newsletter Online
Members of the AAAA Team

The American Association of Amateur Astronomers 
AAAA Mission Statement

AL Observing Programs in PDF Format
AL Observing Programs in Adobe Acrobat PDF Format

Join the AAAA's FREE Online Discussion Group, Hosted by Yahoo's eGroups Service

P.O. Box 7981
Dallas, TX 75209-0981



Learn the Constellations
The First Light Astronomy Kit from David Chandler Company
Buy it Now or
Find Out More

Home ] Up ] Binocular Messier ] Binocular Deep Sky ] Double Star Club ] Urban Club ] Lunar Club ] Universe Sampler ] Planetary Observers Club ] Asteroid Club ] Southern Skies Binocular Club ] New AL Observing Programs ] Arp Peculiar Galaxies ] AL Observing Program Contact Info ] [ Observing Forms and Sketch Log ]

gl1.jpg (14340 bytes)a4primer.jpg (42104 bytes)
A Packet 
of Observing Programs
from the Astronomical League

A Primer  
for the Beginning Astronomer
Five Lessons to Help You learn the Sky

AL Observing Programs

PDF File Name
Get Adobe Acrobat 3.02

Messier Club - 70 object and 110 object levels for the telescope. Astronomer's Messier Journal
Binocular Messier Club - 50 of the best Messier objects for binoculars. al-binom.pdf  
(796 KB)
Deep Sky Binocular Club - 60 additional deep sky objects for binoculars. al-binod.pdf  
(487 KB)
Southern Skies Binocular Club - 50 of the finest objects in the Southern Hemisphere. al-binos.pdf 
(511 KB)
Herschel Club - 400 deep sky objects for the telescope. Astronomer's Herschel 400 Journal
Herschel II Club - 400 more challenge deep-sky objects for the telescope. Buy Manual from AL Sales
Double Star Club - 100 of the finest double & multiple stars in the heavens. al-dstar.pdf  
(581 KB)
Lunar Club - 100 features on the moon for naked eye, binoculars, and telescope. al-lunar.pdf  
(500 KB)
Meteor Club - observe a series of meteor showers, and record your observations for ALPO. Buy Manual from AL Sales
Sunspotters Club - observe and study sunspots and their cycles. Buy Manual from AL Sales
Arp Peculiar Galaxy Club - CCD image or observe 100 Arp galaxies. al-arp.pdf  
(767 KB)
Urban Club - observe 100 objects in heavily light-polluted areas. al-urban.pdf  
(726 KB)
Asteroid Club - learn to identify and observe asteroids and minor planets. al-asteroid.pdf
(257 KB)
Universe Sampler - a journey through the universe for the beginner. Buy Manual from AL Sales
Planetary Club - 27 selected projects to introduce the pleasures of planetary observing. alplanet.pdf  
(338 KB)
AAAA Observing Log - Record essential information during your observing session. 10 objects per page. a4-obsfm.pdf
AAAA Observation Log and Sketch Template - Make drawings at the eyepiece. 1 object per page. a4-sketch.PDF

The Astronomer's Journal. 
Newly Revised and Updated by AAAA

Astronomer's Messier

Organize your Messier Observations!

Astronomer's Herschel 400 Journal

The Herschel 400 Club Just Got Easier!

Observing Forms
From the American Association of Amateur Astronomers

Observing Forms are something that every amateur astronomer can use. We all know the virtues of writing down what we see and keeping accurate records. The AAAA's Observing Form and Sketch Log make it that much easier for you to get started down the path of better observing in an organized way.

You can download and print PDF versions of both of our forms from this page. Just click on the links below.

Clear skies! Good Observing! Fight light pollution! 

a4-obsvfm.jpg (19251 bytes)

a4-sketch.jpg (14312 bytes)

AAAA Observing Log - Record essential information during your observing session. 10 objects per page. AAAA Observation Log and Sketch Template - Make drawings at the eyepiece. 1 object per page.
a4-obsfm.pdf a4-sketch.PDF

Astronomical Note Taking

When you first start to observe, the differences that make each object unique may seem to be lost in a sea of similarities: they all seem to be just so many faint smudges. However, as you observe more and more, you will find yourself noticing details that you were not able to see before. This special kind of visual acuity will steadily improve as you continue to observe and your observing skills develop.

Here is a brief outline of what you should try to notice as you observe at the telescope.

Date, Time, Location

First of all, for each observation, fill in the date, time, location, and the telescope you used. 

Seeing and Transparency

Note the general observing conditions at your site in terms of transparency and seeing. 

A good way to rate the transparency is to estimate the limiting visual magnitude of stars near the zenith, either with the naked eye or with the telescope. 

To determine the seeing, estimate the actual diameter of stellar images in arc seconds, using double stars as a gauge. Look for double star pairs that are merged, or others that are resolved, but whose known separation permits an estimate of the size of the images. A list of close, equal double stars to help gauge seeing can be found in a good list of double stars. Find a favorite and then use it each time you observe.

If all of this seems too complicated, use the Seeing and Transparancy Tables as a guide.

Verbal Descriptions

When taking notes on a deep-sky object, be specific. General observations such as “great,” “beautiful,” or “dull” may be a major part of your impression at the time, but these are least useful in comparing what you see to what others see. These words should not be the major part of your written observation. 

Relative Difficulty

Begin by noting the relative difficulty of the object. Objects easily visible at low power may be rated “bright” or “easy,” those visible only at high-optimum powers are “difficult” or “pretty faint.”


At the best high power for your telescope, estimate the size, either a circular diameter, or the lengths of the longest and shortest dimensions. Do this from knowledge of the true angular field of view of the eyepiece you are using, and estimate to what portion of that field of view the object covers or extends. Doing this accurately takes practice. Be careful. It is easy to overestimate the size of objects that are small in comparison to the size of the eyepiece field.


If an object is elongated, note the approximate orientation (“elongated NE-SW”), or make an accurate measurement of the position angle (PA). 

Position Angle is a compass angle measured from north, counterclockwise on the sky. Thus due north is PA 0 degrees; an object elongated exactly northeast to southwest will have a PA of 45 degrees; elongation southeast to northwest is PA 135 degrees. To eliminate redundancy for deep-sky objects all angles are referred to the first half of the circle: no position angles exceed 179 degrees. Positions relative to a deep-sky object and double star orientations can naturally cover the full 360 degrees. Double star position angles are always with reference to the brighter star. If you using an equatorial mount, with practice you will be able to estimate position angles to about 15 degrees of accuracy. With equatorially mounted Cassegrainian telescopes, you can do even better, since the orientation of the sky in the eyepiece (if you don’t use a star diagonal) is always the same relative to the telescope: marking the cardinal directions on the tailpiece of the telescope could be useful here.

Brightness and Density

Note any zones of brightness in galaxies or nebulae, and the relative concentration of stars in clusters. Apply the following terms consistently to specific observable phenomena in deep-sky objects. 

A “stellaring” is any faint star-like manifestation appearing on the surface of a nebulous object. In galaxies, these may be true stars of the Milky Way superposed on it, or a bright star cloud or HII region within the galaxy that appears stellar due to the modest telescopic power in use. 

Use the terms “halo,” “core,” and “nucleus” to refer to more-or-less well-defined zones of brightness from the edge to the center of an object.

The general terms “concentration” or “condensation” refer to any brightening in a nebula, or to the rise in apparent density of stars toward the center of a cluster. How the brightness changes with radius varies from object to object. Brightness profiles can be described as “broad,” “even,” and “sharp” concentrations. Globular clusters, more than any other group, exhibit most clearly the idealized concentration types. Note if the stars in the globular cluster can be resolved. 

Count the Stars

In star clusters, try to count the stars. Do not merely guess at the number. If there are many stars, count only half or a quarter of them and multiply accordingly. In the case of open clusters, restrict star counts to some area that seems to be the natural size of the group, and then note this size. Doing so permits a better comparison between observations made on different dates or with other instruments.

Note the location of nearby stars or other interesting aspects of the field around an object. Estimated magnitudes, directions, and distances of stars are often included, sometimes using cardinal point or PA and angular measure, sometimes only relative to the object, i.e., “a prominent red mag. 9 star at the west edge of the cluster;” or “a mag. 13.5 star just off the NE flank of the halo”.


If you use a filter, compare the appearance of the object with and without the filter. 


Sketches are a helpful supplement to verbal notes, though making them can be very time consuming. Sketches are most effective with interesting, detailed objects and when indicating nearby stars or features difficult to describe verbally. Sketches can also serve to show the relationships among several objects in the same field, and provide a means of later identifying unknown objects.

Observing Programs

Observing programs offer a structured and fun way to pursue your study of the night sky. At first, you will find yourself learning the constellations and what time of year they are visible in order to locate your targets. As you progress, you will come to enjoy a deeper understanding of the universe and the world we live in. 

The American Association of Amateur Astronomers, through its affiliation with the Astronomical League, provides a wide range of observing programs for amateur astronomers, from beginners all the way to advanced observers. The Astronomical League offers certification for its binocular, planetary and lunar programs. The most famous of these is the Messier program, a tradition of observing the galaxies, clusters and nebulae on the list compiled by French astronomer Charles Messier in 1781. Click on the links below for more information.

Home ] Up ] Binocular Messier ] Binocular Deep Sky ] Double Star Club ] Urban Club ] Lunar Club ] Universe Sampler ] Planetary Observers Club ] Asteroid Club ] Southern Skies Binocular Club ] New AL Observing Programs ] Arp Peculiar Galaxies ] AL Observing Program Contact Info ] [ Observing Forms and Sketch Log ]

Hit Counter

P.O. Box 7981, Dallas, TX 75209-0981

Formerly Corvus.com

Hit Counter
Counter reset October 2005

Copyright 1996-2016 by The American Association of Amateur Astronomers - ALL RIGHTS RESERVED