So begins the introduction to The Finest Deep-Sky Objects by James Mullaney and Wallace McCall, Sky Publishing Corporation, 1972. This delightful thirtytwo page booklet contains descriptions and images of 105 clusters, nebulae, galaxies, and stars, all choosen for their visual impact at the eyepiece. Compiled by former AAAP'ers James Mullaney and Wallace McCall while at Allegheny Observatory, this list is both impressive and challenging.
Looking over the list one might wonder what is so difficult about observing Sirius, Antares, Rigel, or Vega? The challenge lies not in finding these bright beacons, but rather in seeing their faint companions. Sirius, for instance, has a companion 10,000 times dimmer than itself, so the glare from the primary all but obscures the faint companion. It takes good optics and a good steady atmosphere to resolve this pair. Rigel at magnitude 0 has a slightly easier secondary 9.4 arc-seconds away at magnitude 7. Vega, brightest of the stars forming the summer triangle, has a little known follower; just over one minute of arc away, but faintly glowing at 10th magnitude; it is easily lost in Vega's brilliance.
The objects for this list were choosen based on their appearence in the 13-inch at Allegheny, but this much of a telescope is by no means required to complete the list. The authors have also observed all objects in a 3-inch glass. (They describe views through the 30-inch Thaw refractor at Allegheny as well, but instruments of that size are beyond the reach of most amateurs!). A good astronomical handbook is an essential companion to this list. Burnham's Celestial Handbook, by Robert Burnham, Jr., published by Dover Publications; Webb Society Deep-Sky Observer's Handbook, editied by Kenneth Glyn Jones; 1000+: The Amateur Astronomer's Field Guide to Deep-Sky Observing by Tom Lorenzin; and A Field Guide to the Stars and Planets, Donald Menzel and Jay M. Pasachoff are all excellent choices. While of course the nebulae, clusters, and galaxies show no discernible change in a human lifetime, multiple star systems, especially ones as closely spaced as some in this list, do change over the years. A good handbook is required to check on the current separation to be sure that the object is indeed visible at the present time. It may be neccessary to wait several years for a double star system to widen enough for viewing. After all, it is not enough to just find Sirius, the companion has to be seen as well.
For each object observed, the date, time, size of telescope and eyepiece, should all be recorded. A brief description is also helpful. For the multiple star systems, the separation and postion angle should be estimated as these serve to verify the observation. Seeing conditions and location should also be noted.
The full listing (a large 171 KB graphic) of all 105 objects includes Name (Greek letter, Flamsteed number or other catalog for stars, Messier or NGC number for non-stellar objects), Constellation, R.A./Dec., Magnitude(s), and Type. A form can be obtained from the AAAP which also lists all of the objects as well as areas to enter data, time, equipment, etc.