Leo J. Scanlon Certificate

Named in honor of a founding father of the AAAP, the purpose of earning this certificate is to learn the sky. The certificate should not require any optical aids and when completed will be a firm foundation in any future observing programs such as the Messier, Mullaney, and Herschel.

This listing include 62 constellations, 16 bright stars, and 5 bright planets, not including the Earth. Everything is north of -40° declination except portions of some of the constellations (but they are included because a major portion of their area is above the -40° limit). All items on the list can be observed from 40° latitude.

The certificate is obtained by completeing a check list. Everything is to be located twice. The second time should be on a different night. This helps the observer to learn to recognize the constellations under different conditions and in different parts of the sky without a chart. Recording the find gives the observer the experience of keeping a log which will become valuble in more advanced observing. After completing the list it should be returned to the club president. He may "field test" the applicant by asking for a few things to be identified. The certificate will be presented at the next club meeting.

Notes & Hints for Completing the Scanlon List

Try out two or more different star charts. A chart that works well for one person may not be clear to another. Some charts may be better for locating the constellations (wide area coverage), while others may be better for individual stars. Study the charts during the day and when the weather prevents observing. Trying sketching some constellations and their relative positions from memory.

Here are some online star charts that you can download and print to get started.

Start with the Big Dipper (actually an asterism, part of the constellation Ursa Major), then learn the North Star and the Little Dipper (another asterism). Use these two guides to help learn all of the circumpolar constellations. Use the last two stars in the cup of the Big Dipper to find the North Star. The other stars of the bowl lead to Regulus in Leo. The handle of the Big Dipper "Arcs to Arcturus" then that same line continues on as a "Spike to Spica". Here is a chart copied from Starry Night Deluxe which shows the constellations around the pole and how to use the Big Dipper as a pointer to the North Star and Leo, and Cassiopea as a pointer to the bright star Vega in Lyra.

When looking at a chart and trying to find constellations, use known constellations or asterisms to "point the way" to the unknown. Don't try to learn too many at once. Go back and relocate items you have already seen on other nights. Observe from different locations so that you don't end up depending on local ground-based landmarks. It helps to find constellations in groups. The "Summer Triangle" is made up of three bright, easy to find stars (Vega, Deneb, and Altair); once they are found their constellations are easy. Find all the zodiacal constellations; they form a band along the ecliptic. A dim constellation like Cancer is easier to find when you know that it is between Leo and Gemini.

Start with the brighter stars and constellations (marked in bold in the list). On nights with a full or nearly full moon many of the dimmer stars will be washed out in the moonshine, thesed are good nights for finding the very brightest stars and constellations without being overwhelmed by a multitude of dimmer stars. Also use the colors of stars, Antares in Scorpius is a definite red, Arcturus in Bootes and Aldebaran in Taurus are orange. The spectral type of a star (related to its temperature and mass) gives its color. The spectral type scale ranges through O-B-A-F-G-K-M ("Oh be a fine girl, kiss me!") with "O" being the hottest and "M" the coolest. Stars that are O or B tend to look bluish to bluish white. As the scale moves through A-F-G the color tends more towards yellow (our own sun is type G2). The K and M stars move into orange and red.

The planets appear as stars to the naked eye, but move through the sky slowly, changing position from night to night (indeed the word "planet" comes from the Greek meaning "wanderer"). So check with Sky & Telescope or some other publication to see where they are on any given night. Follow this link to view the Scanlon List in a format suitable for printing.