TSP Advanced Observing Program

By Larry Mitchell – Houston, Texas


The TSP Advanced Observing Program was initiated to educate and challenge observers to locate and observe those objects they might have considered too difficult, if not impossible, to find beforehand. With a small degree of confidence and patience along with good optics, almost anything is possible.

There is no better place to push the visual limit than under the dark transparent West Texas sky. Too often observers stop at the “NGC Limit” and never try to locate objects that begin with names like IC or Barnard or unusual solar system objects like Amalthea or Iapetus, etc. Such Name Intimidation is nothing more than becoming overwhelmed by the seemingly exalted difficulty of the object merely due to its name. Most of the objects on this year’s list can be seen with small to average sized telescopes.

TSP 2018 Advanced Program:  Edward Emerson Barnard
The listed objects are best located by careful and precise star-hopping. It is most imperative that the observer know exactly where in the field to look when the object is located, especially if some items turn out to be truly “light challenged” in their particular telescope. A few of these objects are faint and tenuous, so try various magnifications on these. By using a combination of averted and direct vision along with a degree of patience – eventually the object will be seen…. Give the sky a chance and it will come to you. The standard observing rule is if you think you see the object at least three times, then you probably Really Did See It – Log it – and go on to the next object. Please refer to the handout for a star finder chart of the object, and something about the object, or something pertaining to the object… Each has a story to tell.

This year’s advanced program is a little different in that it concentrates on an individual, Edward Emerson Barnard, the Man, the Times and the Science. Barnard was an accomplished pioneer in astrophotography and his catalog of dark nebulae, known as Barnard Object’s, were the finest photographs that had been taken of the Milky Way. Barnard perhaps was best known for his incredible eyesight and ability to discern faint detail through an eyepiece that other “gifted observers” had to photograph in order to see. As an observer he truly had no equal in his day and rarely missed a single hour of clear moonless night-sky. He was known as “the man who was never known to sleep.” His endless scouring of the heavens left an astonishing legacy of observations: of planets, satellites, comets, double stars, bright and dark nebulae and globular clusters.

Several of Barnard’s discoveries were made with a telescope as small as 5 inches, yet these objects had been passed up by other visual astronomers with much larger instruments. This years Advanced Listing of Barnard Objects puts you, the observer, in direct competition with one of the best visual observers of all time. He did it with refractors… What can you do with your enhanced coated mirrors? There are 40 deep sky objects, plus 7 solar system objects on the observing list, and only 20 objects are required to obtain an observing pin. As always, some of these objects are easy and some will challenge even the best of you.

Barnard would have loved to understand the science of the universe that we all take for granted today. In his day anything that was not composed of stellar objects was classified as “nebulae”, which of course includes those objects we call galaxies today. As amateur astronomers, we are privileged that we get to view these objects that most people do not know even exists and very few human beings have ever visually seen. I urge you to try some of the more difficult objects, the globular clusters inside Barnard’s Galaxy, which are relatively new discoveries and have hardly been viewed by anyone. If you do not see Phobos and Deimos at the TSP, try again around August 1 when Mars will be at its maximum visual size of 24.3”.

With patience and good sky conditions the list is certainly well within the range of all observers, beginner or advanced who desire an Advanced Observing Pin from the Premier Observing Star Party…..the TEXAS STAR PARTY.

  1. Any telescope may be used or any combination of telescopes.
  2. Location by Star Hopping is Preferred – The only way to know where an object is in the heavens is to go and find it – Star Hop and be Educated…  Maybe next time you can locate it without a chart from memory – Always the Best Way.
  3. An Advanced Observing Pin will be awarded to those who observe any 20 of the listed objects during the TSP.
  4. Observation programs from previous years may be completed for appropriate pins.
  5. Observations of at least 20 objects may be turned in to Larry Mitchell anytime during the star party  OR
    outside door leading into the TSP Meeting Hall each day between 1:00 PM and 2:30 PM (except Saturday, from 10-11:30 AM).

To those of you who only complete part of the list, but who have worked hard at it, you have successfully completed the spirit of the program.  You have improved your observing skills, learned something about the night sky and hopefully enjoyed yourself…  And you can always get that observing pin next year.  Many people have enthusiastically expressed how amazed they were at themselves for locating and observing these objects themselves and with their equipment



I hope you enjoy this challenge as much as I have and that it gives you a new sense of enjoyment and confidence in your abilities to successfully view with your own eyes – Our Magnificent Universe.
Good Hunting – Good Observing – Good Times


TSP 2018 Advanced Program:  Edward Emerson Barnard

Download this year’s observing list… and it’s photo companion_guide  (Adobe Acrobat(PDF) version).

Or download this ZIP file containing this year’s program (and prior years) in SkyTools(STX) and SkySafari(SKYLIST) format


Check out our Observing Program archives for previous year lists!