Deep-Sky Section

Messier 7 and dark nebulae

Section Director: Angus Burns
Programmes: Deep-Sky Marathons, Big 5 of the African Sky, ASSA Top-100 Deep-Sky Objects, Bennett Catalogue, Dunlop’s Catalogue, La Caille’s Catalogue
Specialists & Collaborators: Auke Slotegraaf, Magda Streicher, Hannes Pieterse (Big 5 & Marathons), Carol Botha (Big 5)
Section newsletter: Angus Burns (Southern Skies editor)
Contact us: [ ]


Beyond the Sun, Moon and planets lie the stars of our Galaxy. Some are grouped together in clusters, others are spread out along the plane of the Galaxy along its spiral arms, a region rich in nebulae (vast clouds of gas and dust). Far beyond our Galaxy we encounter other galaxies, clusters of galaxies and quasars. These objects – galaxies, star clusters and nebulae – are what deep-sky observers study. (Historically, no distinction was made between what we today call nebulae, and galaxies – these “faint fuzzies” were lumped together as ‘nebulae’.) To find out more about these objects, visit the “Observing deep-sky objects” page.

Current projects

Some of the projects currently being worked on, include:

  • An Observer’s Atlas of the Large and Small Magellanic Clouds [o,p]
  • Documentary Film: Into the Deep
  • Dark Nebula Atlas [o,p]
  • Digital Archive of Historical Deep-Sky Texts [r]
  • Historical Archive of the Visual Deep-Sky [r]
  • Biographical Notes: Who’s Who of the Deep-Sky [r]
  • Deep-Sky Nick-names [r]
  • Photo-to-visual conversion [p,r]
  • Telescopes in movies: The good and the bad [r]
  • Deep-sky marathons [o]
  • Big 5 of the African Sky / Groot 5 van die Afrika Nag [o]

[o] = observing project
[p] = has a significant astrophotography component
[r] = lots of reading/research/desk work involved

If you’d like to get involved in any of these projects, or initiate one of your own, please get hold of me.

18 April 2022
QZ Carinae paper by David Blane

I recently participated in a mammoth international collaboration to improve our understanding of the enigmatic multi-star system, QZ Carinae. I am pleased to report that the paper has been accepted by Astronomy & Astrophysics and will be published in due course. This is the third publication on this eclipsing binary system we have published in recent years!

The pre-publication details are available on arXiv:2204.07045.

A Bit of Sky Guide History

The first edition of this Sky Guide was published in 1946 and was known as the Astronomical Handbook for Southern Africa. It consisted of 12 pages and was available for 1/6 from Juta and Co., Darling Street, Cape Town. Dr Richard Hugh Stoy of the Royal Observatory carried out most of the calculations, assisted by Mr Reginald de Kock, Dr Alan Cousins and other members of staff. In 1957 the book was redesigned and most of the calculations were performed by the Transvaal Centre’s Computing Section. In 1962 the Handbook was sold for 25 cents, and the Royal Observatory was again responsible for generating the data. In 1974, Dr Tony Fairall at the UCT Astronomy Department took over as editor. The next 13 issues were edited by Mr Rupert Hurly until Ms Pat Booth took over in 1990. During 2003, a committee consisting of Auke Slotegraaf, Maciej Soltynski and Cliff Turk, assisted by many helpers, redesigned the Handbook. After much deliberation the name was changed to the Sky Guide.

Big 5 of the African Sky
The “Big 5 of the African Sky” is an invitation to witness the most spectacular deep-sky treasures of the southern hemisphere: five objects that represent the best of the best!
Deep-Sky Observing Challenges
Take up the challenge and observe the glorious objects on these lists:

Deep-Sky Observing mailing list
If you’re a deep-sky observer, or considering taking up the sport, then join the ASSA Deep-Sky Observing e-mail list. It is hosted at Yahoo Groups, so it’s safe, spam-free, and chock full of interesting deep-sky news. Take part in the discussion by joining the list – just send an e-mail to [ ] or visit the assa-deep-sky Yahoo Group. (2013 November 23)
In addition to Nightfall, and the Southern Skies newsletters, here are some more essays for your enjoyment:

  1. Comet Lovejoy and Messier’s Black Sheep – 2014 December
  2. NGC 6656 (Messier 22) Observing Report – October 2014
  3. A selection of sketches by Carol Botha – January 2014
  4. Hydra, the Multi-headed Serpent – 2013
  5. Two fishes in the Starry Sea – 2013
  6. Her name is Virgo – 2013
  7. The Painter’s World – 2013
  8. Celestial Home of Stars – 2013
  9. Scutum the Protective Shield – 2012
  10. Mythical Monoceros – Unicorn of the Skies – 2012
  11. Cetus a Monster Whale – 2012
  12. The Proud Indian – 2012
  13. The Useful Triangle – 2012
  14. A Misty Cloud – 2011
  15. A Misty Cloud on our Doorstep – 2011
  16. Fornax An Oven Full of Fuzzies – 2011
  17. Ophiuchus, the Herb Healer – 2011
  18. Columba, the Dove – 2011
  19. Lepus – a Storybook Rabbit – 2011
  20. A Flame rises from the Altar – 2010
  21. Antlia the Machine Pneumatique – 2010
  22. Grus – an Elegant Starry Bird – 2010
  23. Pavo – a Fanciful Bird – 2010
  24. The Ancient Starry Ship – 2010
  25. A Compass Pointing South – 2010
  26. The never changing Chamaeleon – 2010
  27. The Taurus Giants – 2009
  28. A Spyglass Telescope – 2009
  29. Reticulum: The Celestial Crosshairs – 2009
  30. Plough northwards, to the Big Dipper – 2009
  31. Circinus – a Handy Tool – 2009
  32. The Pendulum Clock – 2009
  33. A dolphin in Durban – 2008
  34. Centaurus, a constellation like no other – 2008
  35. The Southern Queen’s Crown – 2008
  36. A Crow named Corvus – 2008
  37. The Sculptor’s feast in art – 2008
  38. Unique Clusters in the Starry Ship – 2008
  39. Canis Major the trusty Dog – 2007
  40. Heading for the pole – 2007
  41. Crux, our Southern heritage – 2007
  42. Tiny bat vs mighty Eagle – 2007
  43. Lupus, a wild animal – 2007
  44. Aquarius, the Watering Can Man – 2007
  45. Star Birds of Paradise – 2006
  46. Scorpius, the winter bug – 2006
  47. Sailing along River Eridani – 2006
  48. Rings around Lyra – 2006
  49. Musca, the Heavenly Fly – 2006
  50. Treasures of Orion – 2006
  51. Caroline Herschel’s deepsky discoveries – 2005

Awards and Certificates

Observers who contribute to the Section may be eligible for awards and certificates, including an Observing Certificate, a Merit Award, and a Director’s Observing Commendation. (List of past recipients)

Awards recipients

Awarded in 2016

John Gill – Observing Certificate (jointly awarded with the Astrophotography Section)
Percy Jacobs – Observing Certificate & ASSA Top-100 Virtual Observing Pin
John Maynier – Observing Certificate & ASSA Top-100 Virtual Observing Pin
Dave Blane – Observing Certificate & ASSA Top-100 Virtual Observing Pin
Andy Overbeek – Observing Certificate & ASSA Top-100 Virtual Observing Pin
Louis Lombaard – Observing Certificate & ASSA Top-100 Virtual Observing Pin

Awarded in 2015

Hannes Pieterse – Observing Certificate & ASSA Top-100 Virtual Observing Pin
Pieter Pieterse – Observing Certificate & ASSA Top-100 Virtual Observing Pin

Awarded in 2014

Alan Cassells – Merit Award (presented at the 2014 Autumn Southern Star Party)
Percy Jacobs – Director’s Award & ASSA Top-100 Virtual Observing Pin
Louis Kloke – Director’s Award & ASSA Top-100 Virtual Observing Pin
Michael Moller – Director’s Award & ASSA Top-100 Virtual Observing Pin

Awarded in 2013

George Dehlen – Director’s Award & ASSA Top-100 Virtual Observing Pin

Awarded in 2012

Richard Ford – Merit Award
Andrie van der Linde – Merit Award
Percy Jacobs – Merit Award
George Dehlen – Merit Award
Louis Kloke – Merit Award
Grant Thompson – Merit Award
Pat Kühn – Merit Award
Michael Poll – Merit Award
Andre de la Porte – Merit Award
Craig Kloke – Merit Award

Awarded in 2010

Kos Coronaios – Merit Award
Richard Ford – Merit Award
Dale Liebenberg – Merit Award
Pete Scully – Merit Award

Awarded in 2009

Richard Ford – Merit Award
Gary Lillis – Merit Award
Lucas Ferreira – Merit Award
Dany Duprez – Merit Award
Kos Coronaios – Merit Award

Awarded in 2008

Richard Ford – General Observer’s Award
Carol Botha – General Observer’s Award
Gary Lillis – General Observer’s Award

Awarded in 2005

Ronel du Preez – General Observer’s Certificate

Awarded in 2004

Magda Streicher – General Observer’s Certificate
Gerrit Penning – General Observer’s Certificate

Awarded in 2003

Magda Streicher – Director’s Award
Tony Jones – General Observer’s Certificate

Virtual Observing Pins

Observers who reach certain observing milestones are awarded virtual observing pins: a graphic that is created uniquely for you, officially hosted on the ASSA website, that you can link to and embed in online media to show off your achievement.

ConCard Updates

A new version (1.5) of the ConCards was release on 2014 October 01. It now includes a rough all-sky map of the Milky Way to aid in identifying the most wonderful portions of our home galaxy. Download the latest edition as a 4.2-Meg PDF file.

Annual Reports to ASSA Council

Reports to Council are published in mnassa as part of the Proceedings of the Annual General Meeting. The following at available online: Annual Report to Council (2017 July), Annual Report, 2014-2015 Annual Report, 2013-2014, Annual Report, 2012-2013, Annual Report, 2011-2012, Annual Report, 2009-2010, Annual Report, 2008-2009, Annual Report, 2007-2008, Annual Report, 2006-2007, Annual Report, 2005-2006, Annual Report, 2004-2005 & Annual Report, 2003-2004.

External resources

  1. Deep-Sky Observer’s Companion