About the Messier Catalogue

The Messier Catalogue was developed in the 1700s by Charles Messier (1730–1817). Messier was a comet hunter working with speculum metal reflectors and small refractors that were the equivalent of a modern 80–100 mm reflector.

As a result of the limited tools that he had to work with, he could not see the true nature of many of his "faint fuzzies" that are revealed in today's modern instruments. The RASC Messier Catalogue observing program has been awarded since 1981, and was the first RASC observing program with certificate).

I completed the Certificate in 2002.

Explore the Universe—an introductory observing program

Explore the Universe (awarded since 2002) is aimed at the novice visual astronomer. Those who complete the program may apply for a certificate and pin—this is open to all, RASC members and non-members alike. This program will:

  • Stimulate an interest in observational astronomy.
  • Introduce good observing practices and techniques.
  • Provide an introduction to all aspects of visual astronomy including stars and constellations, lunar, Solar System, deep sky, double stars, and some optional activities, including variable stars.
  • Encourage active observing programs in RASC Centres.

One of the special features of this program is that it can be completed entirely using binoculars and the unaided eye. 

If you choose to use a telescope note that automatic (GoTo) functions are not to be used.

A choice of objects is provided so that you can start the program at any time of the year and easily complete the requirements in three to six months time. Handy recording and application forms are available from a link at the bottom of this page.

Want to get started? Download the Explore the Universe program requirements and start your observing program today!


M (oldest daughter) and I will be working on this together to let her gain an understanding of the night sky.

RASC Widefield Certificate

The purpose of this certificate is to introduce beginners to many types of astronomical imaging. The emphasis is on "skyscape" images: these are generally wide-field pictures that capture an astronomical object in the evening, dawn (or nighttime) sky that also include the landscape in the frame. Skyscape images capture a scene the way it looks to the eye of the imager – either a naked-eye view (aka wide field) or a very low-power view as through binoculars.

Some objects in this category are better captured with a telescope serving as the camera lens, so the requirements allow for this. Each image should be well framed, well focused, and have a well-managed dynamic range that mimics what the human eye can see. The size and position of the astronomical object(s) in the sky have to be correct with respect to the foreground scenery.

Fifteen pictures from the following list are required for the certificate, with a minimum of ten being skyscape images (the remainder do not have to have the landscape in the frame). Each picture shall be accompanied with a description of the location, time, equipment used, camera settings, planning done, problems encountered or solved, and whatever else, such as how you feel about the image or what happened that night. Please indicate on the application form which of the objects in the following list each of your pictures represents.

    - Sunrise or sunset
    - Moonrise or moonset at full Moon
    - Gibbous, half, or crescent Moon
    - New Moon with earthshine
    - Moon and a planet
    - Moon or planet beside a deep-sky object
    - Two or more planets
    - Mercury
    - ISS or Iridium flare
    - Star trails
    - The Milky Way
    - Constellation
    - Asterism - Big Dipper or Summer Triangle
    - Aurora
    - Two or more pictures showing movement of a planet or asteroid
    - Uranus or Neptune identified in a picture
    - Sun or Moon halo, or Sundogs
    - Noctilucent clouds
    - Lunar or Solar eclipse
    - Comet
    - Meteor
    - Zodiacal light

You can see the images that I submitted for completion here.

RASC Deepsky Certificate

The purpose of this certificate is for astronomers to learn basic techniques of photographing deep-sky objects, such as tracking, focusing, stacking, and image processing. Twelve pictures are required for the certificate, two images from each of the following categories.  A log of all equipment, settings, and steps taken should accompany every picture. Pictures from remote telescopes will not be allowed.

    - Emission or reflection nebulae
    - Spiral galaxies
    - Planetary nebulae
    - Open clusters
    - Globular clusters
    - Dark nebula or comet

The following features are expected in the pictures:
- Correct name or title
- Good tracking as shown by stars that are not trailed.
- Good focusing as shown by small stars or sharp details.
- Picture well framed showing entire object, but not too small in the picture.
- Vignetting controlled by flats if necessary.
- Camera noise controlled by darks if necessary.
- Noise minimized by proper exposure and stacking.
- No clipping of blacks, background should not be completely dark.
- No clipping of white areas. Pictures of clusters should show star colours.
- Pictures processed (stretched) if necessary to show fainter details.


I am currently in the process of finalizing my submissions for this certificate.


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