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.

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 (2014 October 09)
  3. A selection of 25 sketches (2014 January)
  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