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.


TSP 2021 Advanced Program: The Best of the Rest of the Advanced Observing Programs – Part II

This year, 2021 gets us back under the stars at night, but the star party functions are conducted virtually as the in-person gathering at the Prude Ranch has been cancelled due to Covid-19.  This year’s Advanced Observing Program will be conducted from an observing site of your choosing – Details will follow below.  The observing program is a continuation of the twentieth year of the advanced visual observing programs of the Texas Star Party.  Normally I would not present one, and certainly not two “Best-of” programs as they only cover ground previously trodden, but two years ago I got talked into it and everybody seemed to enjoy the variety of targets presented.  Therefore, for this year’s abbreviated star party I am going with the Best of the Rest, of the Advanced Observing programs, or as some would say, The Best of the Advanced Observing Programs – Part II. 

This year highlighted are 40 of some of the brighter and more interesting objects that have been listed over the previous years. This is – by far – the EASIEST Advanced TSP list ever published, and will provide some “eye-candy” as a reward for those of you who may have experienced “retinal torture” in the past. With just a little extra effort and a good sky, an advanced observer may be able to visually see ALL of the objects using only a modest aperture telescope. In planning your observations, pay attention to both the listed magnitudes and the object size, which will give an indication of the surface brightness of each object. Also try to observe the target when it is high up in the sky, as close to its transit point as possible. As we visual observers know all too well, the only way to know for sure if something is visible, on that particular night and with those specific optics, is to LOOK for YOURSELF.  Adopt the theory, that within reason anything may be seen, until you have visually proven otherwise, which may require more than one night of trying. Remember, everything requires effort – the only thing you can achieve without it is failure.

The 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 and/or see visually, beforehand. 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 Arakelian, Minkowski, Palomar or Sanduleak. Such Name Intimidation is nothing more than becoming overwhelmed by the seemingly exalted difficulty of the object merely due to its unfamiliar name. A large telescope is NOT required to observe most of these objects.

The listed objects are best located and observed 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 object turns out to be truly “light challenged” in their particular telescope. By using various magnifications and a combination of averted and direct vision along with a large 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. But first please refer to the handout for some information about the object, as each is unique and has a story to tell, and knowing something about what you are looking at makes it a much more interesting discovery.

Only 20 objects out of the 40 listed are required to obtain a twenty-year observing pin, but I would encourage everybody to try and observe the entire lists as there are some real visual gems present. To get a TSP Advanced Observing Pin all objects must be observed End of Twilight June 5 – Dawn June 13, 2021.

I also have a good supply of special Advanced Observer T-shirts which are reserved for the ‘Best-of-the Best’, those of you who have received a pin for every year of the programs existence, which of course includes this year. These will be handed out at next year’s TSP (2022) with supporting documentation.


  1. Any telescope may be used or any combination of telescopes from any observing location of your choosing.
  2. An Advanced Observing Pin will be awarded to the first 95 who observe any 20 of the 40 objects.
  3. Every successful observer will also receive an Advanced Observer Certificate.
  4. Observations are limited to End of Twilight June 5 – Dawn June 13, 2021.
  5. Location by Star Hopping is Preferred but not Mandatory – The only way to know where an object truly is located is to go and find it.  Star Hop and be Educated.  Maybe you can then locate it without a chart, from memory – Always Best.
  6. Submitted Observing Logs must contain:
    • The physical location of the Observation.
    • Date and Time of the Observation.
    • The aperture of the telescope (s) used for the observation.
    • A general indication of sky conditions – Seeing (Excellent – Poor) and Transparency (1 – 6 Best).
    • The observer’s primary mailing address for mailing observing pins and certificates.
  7. Submit your Advanced Observing Logs to Steve and Amelia Goldberg at advanced-challenge@TexasStarParty.org
  8. Larry Mitchell will approve all observations and mail observing pins.


As astronomers, we are very privileged to get to view far-away, massive fascinating objects that most people do not know even exists. With patience and good sky conditions this relatively easy list is certainly well within the range of all observers, beginner or advanced, with small or large telescopes.

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.
– With Your Own Eyes

A Special Thank-You to Steve and Amelia Goldberg.


TSP 2021 Advanced Program:  The Best of the Rest of the Advanced Observing Programs II

Download this year’s observing list   (Adobe Acrobat(PDF) version).



Check out our Observing Program archives for previous year lists!