A primary reason many of us are interested in astronomy is that we love observing the night sky. Yet, for many newcomers, one of the most difficult aspects of getting started is determining what to observe. There are literally thousands of objects within the reach of a moderate-sized telescope costing only a few hundred dollars. Where should you point that new telescope?
Fortunately, many resources are available to amateurs, from atlases and catalogs to planetarium software, to online resources. We’ve compiled a collection of these resources on this page. In addition to links to some of the best sources of information, we’ve also included a set of observer object lists in printable PDF format.
The resources described on this page are provided solely for the benefit of club members, and their appearance here does not imply an endorsement or a recommendation to purchase. They are simply resources that club members have found useful for their own observing programs. Many other products would undoubtedly prove just as useful. If you know of any observing resources that might benefit RAC members, email your suggestions to the Web Editor.
Our Observer Notes (old website) page captures member observations and comments about their favorite objects.
Atlases and Catalogs
There are many great star atlases and catalogs of deep-sky objects that make good subjects for amateur astronomers at all levels, from beginner to expert. One of the best collections of an atlas, catalog, and sky map descriptions on the web is SkyMaps.com, a website devoted to presenting information about amateur astronomy resources. One can also purchase products through the website. The list below represents just a few of the many resources available through SkyMaps.com, Willmann-Bell, and other sellers.
- Norton’s Star Atlas First published in 1910 and now in its 20th edition, Norton’s has long since been superseded by more recent works.
- Discover the Stars is more than just charts…Richard Berry’s intro book includes tutorials on observing, telescopes, and deep-sky objects.
- Bright Star Atlas 2000.0 Ten star maps to magnitude 6.5 by Wil Tirion, with data for 600 objects visible in small telescopes on facing pages.
- Cambridge Star Atlas Revised version contains 52 Wil Tirion color star maps down to mag 6.5, with 900 deep sky objects.
- Pocket Sky Atlas Sky & Telescope’s field atlas of 80 charts containing 30,000 stars down to mag 7.6 as well as 1,500 deep sky objects.
- Sky Atlas 2000.0 Spiral-bound set of 26 Tirion charts covering the sky down to mag 8.5, with 2,700 deep sky objects. Many versions.
- Uranometria 2000.0 Wil Tirion’s massive two-volume set of star charts down to mag 9.5 containing more than 30,000 deep sky objects.
- Cambridge Double Star Atlas Star maps and descriptive tables of more than 2,000 double stars. Spiral-bound and red light friendly.
- The Night Sky Observer’s Guide Detailed descriptions of almost 8,000-night sky objects as seen in a variety of amateur telescopes.
- Sky & Telescope’s large-scale foldout Moon map available from Amazon
Each of the planetarium programs below has the ability to show the sky at any time of year and location on Earth; to filter deep-sky objects according to characteristics such as type, magnitude, size, catalog, etc.; to construct and print tailored sky maps for an evening observing session; and to control telescopes with computer-controlled mounts. Of the four, MegaStar5 has the least sophisticated graphical presentation of the sky but the most comprehensive set of deep-sky catalogs and object filtering and search capabilities.
- MegaStar5 Sky Atlas One of the most complete set of catalogs available in any planetarium program.
- The Sky Popular and widely used planetarium program with highly realistic sky views, including Sun, Moon, and twilight effects.
- Starry Night Highly realistic and widely used planetarium program with the ability to change the viewpoint to anywhere in space and time.
- SkySafari Best planetarium program for iOS (Apple) devices. 46,000 stars; 220 of the best-known star clusters, nebulae, and galaxies. Displays Solar System’s major planets and moons using NASA spacecraft imagery. Accurately shows the sky from anywhere on Earth, at any time up to 100 years in the past or future.
Many online websites provide weekly or monthly summaries of sky events and observing highlights. These are often accompanied by maps of the night sky, sometimes customizable by location and time. Some sites provide lists of interesting objects of various types. These summaries and lists can be helpful in planning an observing session, and the star maps provide beginners with a substitute for planispheres and star charts until they can purchase their own. The links below represent some of the more popular and useful ones.
- S&T Observing Highlights Monthly summary of night sky observing highlights as well as other astronomy news.
- Tonight’s Sky Video-based guide to constellations, deep sky objects, planets and events, located on the Hubble Site.SkyMaps.com Extensive listing of astronomy atlases, guides, software, etc. Features monthly Evening Sky Map in PDF format.
- The Sky This Week A compilation of weekly observing highlight, maintained by the US Naval Observatory
- Jodrell Bank Night Sky Monthly compendium of highlighted observing events, including planet and evening constellation visibility.
- Your Sky Tonight Provides custom star charts for observer location. Features Timothy Ferris’ popular Seeing in the Dark.
- The Sky Tonight A night sky site devoted to introducing kids to astronomy. It allows the creation of maps and tracking of solar system objects.
- East Valley Observing Program Perhaps the best collection of observing lists available on the web! Well worth perusing at length.
- Chesmont Space Science Forum Follow Dave Mitsky’s monthly celestial calendars at the Chesmont Astronomical Society website.
- Deep Sky Database Tools for building observing lists from the Saguaro Astronomy Club
- Hawaiian Astronomical Society Deep Sky List Includes several lists of deep-sky objects as prepared by different observers.
- Astrosurf Carbon Stars A list of over one hundred carbon stars.
- Reddest Carbon Stars A list of the 22 reddest carbon stars.
- Wolf-Rayet Stars An extensive list of Wolf-Rayet Stars
- AstronomyBoy Best 100 Non-Messier Objects A list derived from an online discussion on the sci.astro.amateur Usenet newsgroup.
- Skywatching Highlights A summary of noteworthy sky events for the year. Located on the Space.com website.
- Your Sky Provides tools to create skymaps for user-defined time, location and viewing direction.
- AstroViewer Provides tools to create skymaps for user-defined time and location. Also, it includes the current Earth day/night view.
- SpaceWeather NOAA site devoted to information about and observation of the Sun.
- Willmann-Bell Seller of astronomy books, atlases, catalogs, observing guides and software.