Structured Observing

The Astronomical League comes to the rescue!

By Dave Furry President, Southern Colorado Astronomical Society Log%20Book%20Image

When I got my first telescope as a birthday present when I was 12, I did exactly as most others (and probably you) did – I checked out the moon a few other bright objects that were visible from my suburban neighborhood. (Of course, the “curse of the new telescope” was active – the first few days were cloudy so I had to be satisfied with views of a power pole and a distant tree limb!)

My point is that, at least initially, most visual observers are what Tristan Schwartz (a member of the Colorado Springs Astronomical Society) called “freeform observers” in his July 1014 Sky & Telescope article. These are observers that haul out their telescope when the mood strikes them, but don’t adhere to any plan, don’t set any goals, and certainly don’t keep any records. Nothing wrong with this, of course (after all, it’s only a hobby), and many observers are satisfied in this way for many years – I know I was.

But slowly, as I became more motivated and advanced in my quest to see and understand “what’s out there,” I became aware that “freeform observing” wasn’t always working for me. Sure, it’s the method of choice during a stargaze or while explaining the sky to friends and relatives, but I needed a more structured approach when I was on my own. Once I started planning and logging my observations, I immediately found that it was easier to motivate myself to get out and observe, and I felt that I was learning much more. Now my sessions are preceded by an hour or two of research and planning for what I want to catch in the scope or in the camera.

In the table below are a few of the positive factors in structured observing that Mr. Schwartz highlighted in his article. Following this list is my proposal for SCAS: a new Special Interest Group (SIG) to help you select, plan and successfully complete any of over 50 structured programs leading to certification by the Astronomical League (of which you are a member by affiliation with SCAS). They are all free to members and you don’t necessarily need any equipment besides your two eyes and maybe a pencil and paper.








If my story intrigues you, try it out for yourself. There are many interesting web sites that offer observational planning tips, and I highly recommend getting into sketching and/or photography to further enhance your “structured experience.” Best of all, as I mentioned above the Astronomical League offers 53 (by my latest count – they are adding new ones all the time) observing and award programs. There is bound to be one for everybody, from learning the constellation and the “Sky Puppy” Program (teaching very young kids about the skies), to advanced projects like hydrogen-alpha solar observing and collecting data on near-earth objects! At the end of this article is a listing of most of these programs and awards; see them all with detailed descriptions on the Astronomical League web site:

I offer my assistance to anyone who chooses to complete one of the Astronomical League programs. If we have one or more members interested, we can form a SIG to get together on a fairly regularly basis. We don’t all need to be working on the same program! (I completed the Lunar program and am currently working my way through the Lunar II program.) There is a lot of help we can give each other – in addition to the objects we need to observe there is organization and planning elements (a “structured approach”) that are common to all the programs. Plus there is the encouragement that comes from a group setting – ever notice how much easier it is to learn something in a classroom than on your own?

Let me know if you’re interested by contacting me at Have fun!


Advanced Binocular Double Star

  • Analemma
  • Asterisms
  • Asteroids
  • Binocular Double Stars
  • Binocular Messier
  • Bright Nebulae
  • Comets
  • Constellation Hunter
  • Dark Nebulae
  • Deep Sky Binocular
  • Double Stars
  • Earth Orbiting Satellites
  • Galaxy Groups and Clusters
  • Galileo
  • Globular Clusters
  • Herschel 400
  • Herschel II
  • Hydrogen Alpha Solar
  • Lunar
  • Lunar II
  • Messier
  • Meteors
  • Occultations
  • Open
  • Clusters
  • Planetary Nebulae
  • Radio Astronomy
  • Sky Puppy
  • Solar System
  • Stellar Evolution
  • Sunspotters
  • Two in the View
  • Universe Sampler
  • Urban
  • Variable Stars


  • Dark Sky Advocate
  • Master Observer
  • Outreach
  • Planetary Transits
  • Sketching

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