The Astronomical League provides many different Observing Programs. These Observing Programs are designed to provide a direction for your observations and to provide a goal. The Observing Programs have certificates and pins to recognize the observers’ accomplishments and for demonstrating their observing skills with a variety of instruments and objects.
As a quick reference, you can compare the programs in these lists:
- Observing Programs (listed alphabetically).
- Download a listing of the requirements for each program in a grid format (pdf).
- Listing of programs showing observer level (beginner, intermediate, advanced).
- Listing of programs showing equipment needed (naked-eye, binocular, telescope).
Observing Programs offer a certificate based upon achieving certain observing goals and completion is recognized with a beautiful pin. You are required to observe a specific number of objects from a list or of a specific type (meteors, comets, etc.) with a specific type of instrument (eyes, binoculars, telescope). Some Observing Programs have multiple levels of accomplishment within, and some permit observations of different types (manual vs. go-to, visual vs. imaging) and note this on your certificate. There is no time limit for completing the required observing (except for the Planetary Transit Special Awards and the NASA Observing Challenges), but good record keeping is required.
The Observing Programs are designed to be individual effort. Each observer must perform all the requirements of each Observing Program themselves and not rely on other people to locate the objects. This is called "piggy-backing" and is not acceptable for logging objects for any of the Observign Programs. You are allowed to look through another observer’s telescope to see what the object looks like, but you still need to locate and observe the object on your own.
When you reach the requisite number of objects, your observing logs are examined by an appropriate authority and you will receive a certificate and pin to proclaim to all that you have reached your goal. Please only include observations that are part of that specific Observing Program. Do not include observations from other Obseving Programs. This could result in your submission being returned to you. Many local astronomical societies post lists of those who have obtained their certificates as does the Astronomical League.
When you complete an Observing Program by yourself, you should feel a sense of pride and great accomplishment for what you have just completed. Each Observing Program is designed not only to show you a variety of objects in the sky and to learn some science related to those objects, but to also familiarize you with your telescope and how to use it, night-sky navigation (the ability to find the objects in the vastness of space) and to learn some observing techniques that will enhance your viewing of the objects in the programs.
Types of Certifications
The Astronomical League offers different types of certifications to recognize different levels of accomplishment.
- Observing Programs: These usually require about 100 observations, may take a year to complete, and often focus on specific objects or techniques. Although there may be certificates for partial levels, completion of the Observing Program will have a certificate and a pin.
- Observing Awards: These usually have a certificate and a pin upon completion, but usually do not count towards the Master Observer Award.
- Special Observing Awards: These usually have a certificate and a pin upon completion, but do not count towards the Master Observer Progression. They are for very specific one-time events, and usually require significant effort by the observer.
- Observing Certificates: These are certificates only and are given to those who complete the requirements. An example would be the NASA Observing Challenges. These do not count towards the Master Observer Progression.
- Self-Service Certificates: These are certificates only and are available on the website for download. An example would be a Messier Marathon certificate.
Terms of Common Usage in Astronomical League Observing Programs
There are some terms that will be used throughout Astronomical League Observing Programs. To avoid any confusion due to different definitions, these terms are defined here.
Seeing and Transparency
Many of the Astronomical League's Observing Programs require the inclusion of information on Seeing and Transparency. The Observing Programs will accept a number of different scales and techniques. For details on a easy to use technique that is accepted by all of the Observing Programs, click here.
Observing Log Descriptions
Many of the Astronomical League's Observing Programs require the inclusion of a Description. Although there is a lot of freedom in including what is most significant in the ondividual objects, there is an expectation that they will be substantive. For details on what makes a good description, click here.
Use of Vision Enhancing Devices
The use of Vision Enhancing Devices (Night Vision Tools) is not allowed in the Astronomical League's Observing Programs. Those programs that are based on visual observing often require details in a description or as a sketch (star color, etc.) that would not be possible with these tools.
Replacement Pins and Certificates
Life happens! Pins become lost and certificates are damaged. If you need to replace one or both of these, the Astronomical League wants to help. You should work with the current Coordinator for the specific Observing Program involved. Special Observing Awards may not have replacement pins available since they are ordered once as needed at the completion of the event. Note that it is critical that your certification is in the on-line awards database. If we are unable to verify your having earned the certification, we will not be able to replace the certificate and pin.
There is a cost for materials and shipping these to you. Please make checks payable to the Astronomical League and send them to the appropriate Observing Program Coordinator. The current price list is:
- $ 9.00 for a replacement Pin and Certificate.
- $ 7.00 for a replacement Pin only.
- $ 5.00 for a replacement Certificate only.
- $ 0.00 for an electronic copy of a replacement Certificate only.
These prices may change as costs of production and distribution change.
Observing Program Planning Tools
Aaron Clevenson, one of the AL National Observing Program Coordinators, has created two tools designed to help Astronomical League members manage their progress with the AL Observing Programs. One is a monthly publication (in Microsoft Word) that highlights objects by observing club that are visible in the evening sky that month. It is called "What's Up Doc?". The other is a large spreadsheet (in Microsoft Excel) that lets you set your observing Latitude and Longitude as well as the Universal Time of your observation session and it will tell you information on which objects for all of the AL Observing Programs are visible. It lists the object from highest Altitude to lowest. It has information on over 4500 objects and all of the AL Observing Programs. It is called "What's Up Tonight, Doc?". To get copies of the monthly list, please go to the What's Up Doc? website.
National Observing Program Directors
19411 Cluster Oaks Drive
Humble, TX 77346-2918
P. O. Box 8607
Port Orchard, WA 98366
112 Pebble Beach Drive
Royersford, PA 19468
3208 Little Oak Way
Orlando, Florida 32812
Additional Observing Program Resources