2024 Astronomy Project: Messier Imaging Certificate from the Astronomical League

AI generated image of a landscape and sky

This year I'm going to add a little "structure" to my observing to make it more meaningful. To accomplish this I'm going to take advantage of the Observing Programs offered by the Astronomical League, which are available to all of its members. In particular I'll be doing the Imaging - Messier Observing Program so I'll be capturing images of all 110 Messier objects throughout the year. If you're interested in joining me in this project, read on for more details.

What is the Astronomical League?

The Astronomical League is a US-based organisation that supports astronomers and astronomy clubs with all kinds of resources. Their main focus is outreach and education. Their Observing Clubs are a big part of what they offer. 

If you're a member of your local astronomy club, you're probably already a member of the Astronomical League. Most clubs in the US include AL membership as part of their annual dues. If you're not involved in a local club, or if you're outside the US, you're in luck because you can still join as a Member at-large and get all the benefits. It's $40 for US-based members and $50 for international. 

What's the Benefit of an Observing Program?

The primary benefit for me is providing the aforementioned structure. Each observing program gives you a set of rules to follow to make sure you accurately log your observations. The added bonus of using an observing program is that, once your observations are completed and your log is verified, you'll receive a certificate and pin from the Astronomical League recognising your work. There's no extra charge - it's included as part of your membership. That's a nice little "carrot" to keep you motivated over the course of the year!

Care to Join Me?

I'm going to be documenting my progress on TikTok. You can follow along there, OR if you're an astronomer (of any level) and you want to get more hands-on, you can join in and log your observations as well. If you want to get the certificate and pin you'll need to be an Astronomical League member. However, if you're just interested in getting the benefit of experience and learning about the Messier catalogue, you can get the particulars of the program from the AL website and jump right in. 

If you're not at the imaging level let, you can do the Visual - Messier Observing Program instead using just your telescope. There's one big difference to the visual program, however, if you're going for the certificate and pin: you can't use a go-to telescope! This is because the overall purpose of the visual program is to help people learn the sky while they're observing. And if you don't own a telescope, they also have a Binocular Messier Observing Program that's a fun way to get started.

Whether you're in it for the recognition (and the shiny pin) or just for fun, I hope you'll join me. To help get you started I'm posting a complete list of Messier objects below, sorted by the best month in which they can be observed. "Best" is based on their position in the sky so you can actually see many more objects on a given night and move faster through the list if you like.

I'll be updating things as I progress, and will have recommendations on different ways to log your observations. If you have any questions you're welcome to e-mail me.

Object List

Here's a list of Messier objects sorted by the best month(s) for observing. This was generated with ChatGPT so let me know if you see anything the robot got wrong.

January:

  • M42 (Orion Nebula)
  • M79 (Globular Cluster in Lepus)

February:

  • M41 (Open Star Cluster in Canis Major)
  • M46 (Open Star Cluster with Planetary Nebula in Puppis)
  • M47 (Open Star Cluster in Puppis)
  • M93 (Open Star Cluster in Puppis)

March:

  • M81 (Bode's Galaxy)
  • M82 (Cigar Galaxy)
  • M97 (Owl Nebula)
  • M108 (Spiral Galaxy in Ursa Major)

April:

  • M3 (Globular Cluster in Canes Venatici)
  • M13 (Great Hercules Cluster)
  • M53 (Globular Cluster in Coma Berenices)

May:

  • M51 (Whirlpool Galaxy)
  • M63 (Sunflower Galaxy)
  • M64 (Black Eye Galaxy)
  • M94 (Spiral Galaxy in Canes Venatici)

June:

  • M8 (Lagoon Nebula)
  • M20 (Trifid Nebula)
  • M21 (Open Star Cluster in Sagittarius)
  • M22 (Globular Cluster in Sagittarius)

July:

  • M17 (Swan Nebula)
  • M27 (Dumbbell Nebula)
  • M28 (Globular Cluster in Sagittarius)
  • M57 (Ring Nebula)

August:

  • M31 (Andromeda Galaxy)
  • M32 (Companion Galaxy to Andromeda)
  • M110 (Dwarf Elliptical Galaxy in Andromeda)
  • M15 (Globular Cluster in Pegasus)

September:

  • M2 (Globular Cluster in Aquarius)
  • M33 (Triangulum Galaxy)
  • M110 (Dwarf Elliptical Galaxy in Andromeda)

October:

  • M45 (Pleiades Star Cluster)
  • M76 (Little Dumbbell Nebula)
  • M34 (Open Star Cluster in Perseus)
  • M110 (Dwarf Elliptical Galaxy in Andromeda)

November:

  • M1 (Crab Nebula)
  • M33 (Triangulum Galaxy)
  • M74 (Spiral Galaxy in Pisces)
  • M77 (Spiral Galaxy in Cetus)

December:

  • M45 (Pleiades Star Cluster)
  • M79 (Globular Cluster in Lepus)
  • M82 (Cigar Galaxy)

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