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Awards Rewards

by Perry Pezzolanella, MVAS

The only way to appreciate the universe we live in is to step outside on a clear, dark night and look up into the sky with nothing more than a pair of eyes. The sky will look especially beautiful if viewed from the country with the Milky Way, countless stars, a fuzzy galaxy, star clusters, and maybe a few planets. When the Moon is out it beckons a serious look with its mountains and craters. With so much to see it might seem overwhelming to the beginner, which could lead to frustration. On the other end of the spectrum, the seasoned observer might feel that everything has been seen and there is nothing else worth looking at. Every beginner would like to learn what is up there and every seasoned observer yearns to see something new and unknown. The solution to this dilemma is to complete an observing program and earn a certificate and a pin through the Astronomical League.

Each member of the Mohawk Valley Astronomical Society is also a member of the Astronomical League, a worldwide organization promoting the interests and achievements of astronomers, both beginner and seasoned. The Astronomical League has several award programs conveniently grouped as Learner, Binocular, Telescopic, and Topical. Upon completion of the required projects, the logs, charts, sketches, observations, etc are given to MVAS’ observing coordinator, Faith Thompson, who submits it to the appropriate Astronomical League observing coordinator. Within a few months an award that is suitable for framing along with a cloisonné pin is mailed to her so she can formally present it to the awardee at the next meeting. The awardee also has his or her name engraved on a small plague mounted onto the club’s Astronomical League Award Board. The Astronomical League will also post the awardees name on an honor roll on its website under the corresponding award category and the name will also appear in its newsletter, the Reflector. There are numerous awards and no deadline for completing them. If it takes a full decade, that is fine. The idea is to gain an appreciation of the wonders of the universe and above all to have fun doing it. Here is a description of the awards that this author has completed or is working on in order to assist anyone interested in furthering their knowledge of the night sky:

  • Messier Club: This is the oldest award of the Astronomical League and the most popular. Simply log all 110 of Charles Messier’s objects using a telescope to earn the honorary certificate and pin. No GoTo or setting circles allowed! The idea is to get familiar with finding your way across the night sky. The objects range from a double star to globular clusters, sprawling open clusters, galaxies, and glowing nebulae. This award is worth working for, but if it seems too daunting, then a regular certificate without a pin will be awarded if 70 are logged.

  • Binocular Messier Club: This is a pleasant project using only binoculars. Bigger binoculars will make locating fainter objects from the list easier. There are two optional lists: one for small binoculars of 20 mm-50 mm aperture, and one for large binoculars of 56 mm-80 mm. Fifty objects need to be observed to earn the award. Please do not use any larger binoculars since the goal is to relax and enjoy the pursuit, not sprain an arm or back.

  • Lunar Club: When the Moon washes everything else out in the sky, it is an excellent time to pursue this award; light pollution is not an issue. Simply observe the list of 100 specified lunar features. Some can be seen with the unaided eye, other features will need binoculars, and some will need a telescope. A map of the Moon is a must. The lunar pin is neat and a nice incentive to pursue this award.

  • Double Star Club: This is perhaps the most beautiful project of all. An observer will be convinced after observing all 100 of the required double stars that there is no such thing as a boring double star. The log sheet requires a simple sketch of nothing more than dots to represent the separation, position, and brightness of the double stars. There are many colorful stars to behold in this project.

  • Deep Sky Binocular Club: If finding Messier objects with binoculars was fun, then this is an excellent chance to observe 60 of the finest non-Messier objects. This is also an opportunity to become familiar with designations such as NGC, IC, Stock, Markarian, Trumpler, Collinder, Kemble, and Melotte and to realize that Charles Messier did not log all of the most beautiful objects. This award introduces observers to some neat treasures such as the Coathanger and Kemble’s Cascade.

  • Asteroid Observing Club: The goal in receiving an honorary certificate with a pin is to observe 100 asteroids by plotting the position of each asteroid on at least two nights to confirm movement. This is a tough project with some serious plotting, but highly rewarding. If this seems too challenging then only 25 asteroids need to be plotted and confirmed to earn the regular award without the pin.

  • Herschel 400 Club: This is a good project for the seasoned observer who wishes to observe beyond the Messier list and likes a challenge. The project requires that 400 specified objects from William Herschel’s catalog be observed and logged. Many objects are faint and at least 100 of them will need a telescope larger than a 3-inch refractor.

  • Sunspotters Club: A safe solar filter is required to do this project along with the book, “Observe and Understand the Sun”. This book can be purchased through the Astronomical League or politely ask to borrow it from the friendly author of this article. The award is a two-part project. The first is to make five different sketches of sunspots on different days and classify them. The second part is to make a series of whole disc drawings over two solar rotations, or about 60 days consisting of no less than 20 sketches. Each sunspot must be grouped and classified and a sunspot count must be made. It is best to do this project during the summer.

  • Planetary Observers Club: There are 27 projects dealing with the Moon, Sun, asteroids, and all the planets except Pluto, but only 25 of them need to be completed to earn this very exciting award. The observer will gain an appreciation in the diversity and dynamics of the Solar System through sketching, plotting, timing, and measuring.

  • Urban Observing Club: This is one project that has to be done in the city! The goal is to realize that 100 of the most enjoyable objects can be seen in less than ideal conditions where the Milky Way cannot be seen.

  • Master Observer Club: To earn this ultimate distinction, the observer must complete ten of the observing clubs. The Messier, Binocular Messier, Lunar, Double Star, and Herschel Clubs are the core requirements. An additional five clubs of your choice must be completed in order to earn the award and pin.

There are countless other awards that can be earned. The clubs include the Sky Puppy and Universe Sampler for the beginner, the Comet, Constellation Hunter, Meteor, Globular Cluster, and Caldwell for the seasoned, and the Herschel II, Arp Peculiar Galaxy, Galaxy Groups & Clusters, and the Earth Orbiting Satellite for the highly skilled. Then there are the Southern Skies Binocular and Telescopic Clubs for anyone headed towards the tropics or south of the equator.

This may sound like a lot of work, but that is not what this is all about. An organized observer can have multiple observing clubs in progress at the same time. Besides the observing awards, pins, feeling of achievement and the great personal satisfaction, appreciation for the beauty of the night sky is the ultimate reward.