Articles By Bruce Scodova


Member Observing Resources


RAS Bulletin Board and Night Sky Network.  You will find the following information useful for instruction using the RAS Bulletin Board and the Night Sky Network Website Below.

RAS Bulletin Board

Night Sky Network


Astronomical League.  The Astronomical League ( has a vast collection of information related to Observational Amateur Astronomy that will expand your knowledge of the observable universe and challenge you to become a Master Observational Astronomer.  Hundreds of astronomy related programs are available through the Astronomical League and available to all affiliated club members and members at large.  Richland Astronomical Society is an affiliated club with the Astronomical League which is why you receive the Reflector Magazine quarterly.  Take advantage of these Observing Programs which are designed to provide you direction, build astronomy knowledge and observing skills while providing an award for your efforts.   Observing: where to begin will help you get started along with the AL Observing Program Selector Grid.


Start your program today by visiting the AL Observing Program website  (  See the Observing Links section below for the list of objects required by many of these programs.  These lists are accurate and have been visually verified.


To help you along your journey to several AL Observing Program Certifications and Pins, I have listed below documents and links that will aid you in your quest.  Common to just about all telescopic observations will be the requirement to describe visually your observations.  Location, moon phase, seeing, transparency, date, time, telescope, eyepiece etc. will be required for submittal and approval.  The following will help you with logging and recording your observations. 

Observation Logs Cover Sheet

Observation Logs

Reading Observational Shorthand

Observation Abbreviations


Messier Marathon.  March 26th each year is the best time to observe all 110 Messier objects in one night.  However, chances are the moon will not be new on that date.  Find the new moon (+/- 1 day) as close to March 26th as possible and observe that night.  The following 2 links will be helpful during your search.  See the AstroCards section below for Messier finder cards.

Messier Marathon Search Order Observation Log

Messier Marathon Search Order


Herschel Hustle.  The Astronomical League Herschel Society offers certification for observing William Herschel's 74 galaxy discoveries during the night of April 11, 1785.  Observe these objects in April close to new moon or when the moon sets before 11pm.  The following contains the list of galaxies along with additional information..

Herschel Hustle List

AstroCards.  To observe any object, you will need to first know what the object is and then find it either visually (eyes), binoculars or telescope.  AstroCards have been the favorite choice of many amateur astronomers since the 1980's.  They are an excellent tool to expand your knowledge of the sky and sharpen your observing skills.  These cards contain the Messier Catalog and the finest NGC objects.. They are grouped by constellation and as a bonus, Messier AstroCards are listed in Messier Marathon search order sequence.

AstroCards by Constellation and Messier Search Order Sequence


Observing Lists.  Organization is critical to have a successful night of observing.  Having a plan with a list of objects is just as important as clear skies.  In addition to lists being sorted by 'object number' lists will also be sorted by RA (Right Ascension).  Observing by RA simplifies the order of your observations.  The link below lists (by Catalog Type and RA) all the NGC/IC objects for constellations visible at WRO.  Most of the constellations have been visually verified including fixing of errors and omissions.  In addition, many Astronomical League Observing Programs are listed (visually verified) along with some non-AL Observing Programs.  Non-AL Observing Programs include:  Circumpolar Objects visible at WRO, Webb Anonymous Galaxies, all Globular Clusters and Planetary Nebula listed in Megastar5.  See Additional Observing Projects section below for more information.

Astronomical Listings by Constellations and AL Observing Programs - for public use


Additional Observing Projects.  Not part of the AL Observing Program Division but still worth looking into.

A Circumpolar Observing Project

Equuleus's Little Challenge

Webb Society Anonymous Galaxies


Other Items of Interest.

Construction of the Warren Rupp Observatory





Reading Observational Shorthand


Long before Megastar and TheSky, there was The Revised New General Catalog of Astronomical Objects (RNGC).  It listed all the NGC’s in order by RA.  In addition, it gave the object’s RA, DEC, type, size, magnitude and Dreyer’s visual description.  I soon had every page copied, constellations identified for each object and each page placed in plastic covering.  With 6” engraved setting circles on my new Meade 12.5”, I now had a powerful observing aid to take with me observing.  I soon learned Dreyer’s description codes while hunting down NGC’s using the RNGC.  Soon after, I found myself writing down descriptions of objects using my personal variations of his codes (abbreviations).  One thing leads to another and soon I had observing sheets preprinted with fill-in-the-blanks Dreyer codes.   The following web site will give you a full description of the Dreyer NGC codes 


The success of preserving historical observations is greatly attributed to the following observational shorthand.  This method is in use today and has undergone a major change in 2021 since it’s inception over 20 years ago.  You will find these codes all throughout my observation logs.  Each observation is described in a consistent manner.  First the objects appearance as seen in the eyepiece (diffuseness, brightness and size) is recorded.  A comma separates each attribute. 

For example: 

VDIF,VF,MS          very diffuse, very faint, moderately small

DIF,EB,PL              diffuse, extremely bright, pretty large

PF,VS                      pretty faint, very small


Basically, the following are some of the descriptions codes used (see below for the full list):

Description Codes               Meaning

V                                             very

DIF                                         diffuseness

P                                             pretty

B                                             bright

E                                             extremely

F                                             faint

M                                            moderately

L                                             large

S                                             small


Next, the objects shape is coded.  Elongated, edge on, face on, round, etc.  These codes can be used in any combination.  

For example:

EL                     elongated

OVAL               oval

R                       round

OVAL-R          oval-r

PATCH         patchy

EOn                  edge on


Next detail description of parts of the object is recorded. Nucleus, dust lanes, arms, central bulge, surface brightness, etc.  Again, these codes can be used in any combination. 

For example:

UB                       uniform brightness

FNUC                  faint nucleus

*NUC                  stellar nucleus

NND                    no nucleus detected

HISB                    hi surface brightness

MHISB                moderate high surface brightness


Finally, additional codes are thrown in to further describe the object.  The description ends (observations after 2000) with a over all rating (R=) of either P (poor), F (fair), G (good), or E (excellent). 

For example:

COMP           companion

PAIR=            pair or pairs of objects (assume NGC)

INTER            interacting objects

AV                  averted vision      

SUSP             suspected only

*’s                  stars

R=G               rating = good


Other descriptive codes that are uses are self explanatory.  When you put it all together, you get something like this:


which is interpreted as follows:

Moderately faint, pretty small, patchy, uniform brightness, pair with pgc 59287, rating is fair.


With a little practice reading these descriptions, you too might soon be writing visual descriptions using similar shorthand notations.  To aid and facilitate your use and understanding of this notation, see the log sheets and abbreviations above.


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A Circumpolar Observing Project


Inspired by Mike Allen’s ‘Within 10 degrees from the pole’ I began an observing program to observe all the circumpolar NGC and IC objects.  That is basically 40 degrees in declination from the North celestial pole for those of us in Ohio.  Circumpolar objects are those objects that will never set from our northern latitude.  As Mike points out in his article, equatorial mounts naturally have a tough time observing around the pole, which is why dobsonians are much easier to use than equatorials when observing objects at high declinations.  However, I have found that observing close to the pole with an equatorial mounted telescope is very easy to do as long as you observe objects when they are close to the meridian.  The meridian is a line running through the north pole, through the zenith and southward through the south pole.  At the RA hour of the meridian (local sidereal time or ST), the Right Ascension (RA) axis is almost horizontal to the ground and the Declination (DEC) axis is parallel to the meridian.  In this position, making small telescope movement in RA (east and west) along with telescope movement in DEC (north and south) is easy to accomplish even when doing so on top a ladder at the eyepiece.  Even at extremely high declinations, equatorials are easily moved in RA by lifting or pushing at the tubes center of balance.  Having RA and DEC motors with slewing capabilities would make this task even easier.  Another essential requirement for this to work very well, is accurate polar alignment.


To generate the list of NGC and IC galaxies within 40 degrees of the pole (listed in order by RA) is a very simple thing to do when using the DSO Utility in Megastar5.  Within minutes, I generated 24 observation lists of galaxies by RA, one for each RA hour with declinations of 50 degrees and higher.  Within the list, the galaxies are order by increasing RA further aiding in the search sequence by always working west to east.  This is kind of like paddling a canoe up stream, you will observe the objects while they approach (or reach) the meridian hour (ST).  The meridian is also the point at which the object will be the highest in the sky giving the best views possible.  Eventually time will win out and you will have to jump ahead several hours to the east to catch the next list as it approaches the meridian.  Using optical encoders connected to Megastar5 will aid in the location and identification of deep sky objects around and close to the targeted galaxy.  With observing list in hand, displaying the actual FOV and RA/DEC offset of the next galaxy in Megastar5 made moving the telescope and finding the objects a breeze.  After all, the telescope movement was basically entirely in DEC, with only a slight adjustment in RA.  See Observing Lists link above for Circumpolar Objects.


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Equuleus's Little Challenge


The little horse has some big surprises if you have a moderately sized telescope.  Tucked away and forgotten from it's bigger and more famous neighbors (Pegasus, Delphinus and Aquarius) Equuleus if often forgotten by many amateurs as they plan their nights observing session.  And why not, Equulues only has 4 NGC objects and one of then, NGC 7045, is really just a double star.  The other 3 are faint 13-15th magnitude galaxies and only one if these carries a Herschel designation (NGC 7046).  In addition, there are only nine (9) IC objects.  This makes the little horse the one constellation with the least number of NGC objects.  Since it has no Messier objects, although the famous globular cluster M15 in Pegasus lies just outside it's Northwestern border by a mere 58', it is easy to see why amateurs swing their telescopes to its more promising neighbors.  With all this negative publicity, why would anyone write an observing article about Equuleus?  Eighty Eight reasons is why.  Including the 3 NGC's previously mentioned, there is another 83 galaxies within the reach of large (12.5" and up) telescopes in this tiny constellation.  Of the 88 objects I have observed in this constellation, 78 of these are brighter than 16 magnitude and the average magnitude of these galaxies is about 15.5.  Since Equuleus is one of the smallest constellations, you won't have to go very far to find these galaxies.  If you set out to hunt down these lonely objects, you will most definitely need a modern star chart or better yet, an astronomy software program such as Megastar.

On September 23rd, 2003 I set the aim of the 31" Warren Rupp Telescope towards Equuleus.  Armed with Megastar and interfaced to the optical encoders installed on the 31", I began to locate and identify objects I am quite sure are passed over by just about everyone.  In just 2 days and 2 short observing sessions, I was able to record and identify 51 of these faint objects.  Almost a year later, September 11, 2004, I finished the remaining objects during a single observing session.  In total, 88 galaxies were observed in Equuleus.  Many of these galaxies were worth the hunt.  PGC 66150 and it's close companion PGC 66146 were outstanding in the 17mm Nagler T4.  I was surprised these were not NGC objects.  PGC 66085 and PGC 66079 were another pair falling into the same category as well as IC 5083 and IC 1364.  I have observed many NGC galaxies that are much fainter and featureless than the many IC/PGC galaxies in Equuleus.  Just because it is not an NGC object doesn't mean the object is not worth the look.  See Observing Lists link above for Equulius Objects.

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Webb Society Anonymous Galaxies


I was approached by Jerry Beck about the possibility of having an observing project for the Webb Society Anonymous Galaxies.  Well, here it is.  In 1987 the Webb Society put together a list of 165 galaxies in their Deep-Sky Observer's Handbook Volume 6 titled "Anonymous Galaxies".  In it, you will find visual descriptions and field of view drawings of 165 galaxies made by amateurs with medium (12" and up) and larger aperture telescopes.  These galaxies should be fairly easy to find because of their close proximity to brighter NGC and IC objects.  Since 1987, some of the objects listed have been re-classified as NGC objects and the 'unidentified' objects have found their way into the Mitchell Anonymous Catalog (MAC).  I have put together this observing list using the NGC, PGC or MAC catalog designation rather than UGC, CGCG or other designation used in the Webb Society handbook.  This was done to conform to my naming standard used by my Observational Database and to limit the number of catalog designations.  There are over 125 different catalog listings for galaxies.  See Observing Lists link above for Webb Society Anonymous Objects.

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