“Bringing Astronomy to the People of Hampton Roads”

Updated January 14, 2014


As a member organization of the Astronomical League, the Back Bay Amateur Astronomers participates in the AL’s observing programs. Our members are encouraged to complete these observing projects and earn certificates of accomplishment from the organization. Our Hall of Fame page lists BBAA members who have completed such programs.

One of the most popular observing programs is the Messier Program. It is named after Charles Messier (1730-1817), a comet hunter who, along with his assistant Pierre Mechain, compiled a list of more than a hundred nebulae, star clusters, and galaxies. He hoped to make this list known to other comet hunters so that they would not confuse these objects with suspected comets. Today this list of 110 objects is generally considered to contain many of the sky’s best showpieces. It is often considered a “rite of passage” for any beginning observer.

Most of the programs require that you independently locate and observe the objects on the list. You must keep good logs, often including the date, time, location, viewing conditions, instrument, magnification, and filters used. Some observing programs (such as the Messier Program) do not allow automated searches; you must instead manually starhop to the objects on the list. Some of the programs will even require you to make sketches of what you see, but artistic ability is not required.

BBAA members that complete an observing program should submit their observing logs, drawings, or other required evidence of completion to our Astronomical League Coordinator, Bill McLean. He will double-check your logs and then notify the appropriate program coordinator. The organization will then forward your certificate and pin.

For more information on the Astrononomical League's observing programs, see their webpage. Additionally, don't forget to take a look at the BBAA-created Planetary Nebula Program!