Amateur astronomers love best-sights lists. For instance, although it wasn't compiled for that purpose, the Messier Catalog is a fair approximation of the best 109 (or 110) deep-sky objects visible from mid-northern latitudes. Many other best-sights lists have been published, notably the Astronomical League's Observing "Clubs". But all of these lists are fairly specialized: best double stars, best lunar sights, and so on.


Magnificent Orion is responsible for four of Schaaf's 50 best astronomical sights.

Courtesy Akira Fujii.

In the recently published book The 50 Best Sights in Astronomy, S&T contributing editor Fred Schaaf takes a new approach to this old subject. Schaaf emphasizes the essential unity of astronomy by listing the 50 best astronomical sights of any kind. He organizes them by what instrument you need to see them, starting with the numerous (though often overlooked) naked-eye splendors, and concluding with objects that are only visible through telescopes at high magnifications.

Schaaf's 50 best are listed below, but you will have to read his book to appreciate the insights that make his list so valuable. Please let us know below what you think of his list, his book, and this whole method of organizing astronomical splendors.

Field of View: 180 degrees (all sky) to 100 degrees (naked-eye scan)

  1. The Starry Sky
  2. Total Eclipse of the Sun
  3. Meteor Shower or Storm
  4. Fireball Meteor
  5. The Northern Lights or Aurora
  6. Bright Satellite or Spacecraft
  7. The Milky Way

Field of view: 100 degrees to 50 degrees (widest fixed naked-eye field)

  1. The Big Dipper and the North Star
  2. The Orion Group of Constellations
  3. The Summer Triangle Region

Field of view: 50 degrees to 15 degrees (moderately wide naked-eye field)

  1. Venus or Mercury at Greatest Elongation
  2. Venus, Jupiter, or Mars at Brightest
  3. Bright Comet with Long Tail
  4. Sirius, the Brightest Star
  5. Other Bright Stars
  6. Orion
  7. Other Prominent Constellations

Field of view: 15 degrees to 1 degree (narrow naked-eye field, binoculars field, wide telescopic field)

  1. Total Eclipse of the Moon
  2. Total Eclipse of the Sun Close-Up
  3. The Moon at Full and Other Phases
  4. Very Thin Crescent Moon
  5. Lunar Conjunctions and Occultations
  6. Planetary Conjunctions
  7. Bright Comet Close-Up
  8. The Hyades Star Cluster and Aldebaran
  9. The Pleiades
  10. Other Very Bright, Large Open Star Clusters
  11. Orion’s Belt and Sword
  12. Algol, Mira, and Other Dramatic Variable Stars
  13. Novae, Supernovae, and Supernova Remnants
  14. Starriest Fields
  15. The Sagittarius Milky Way Region
  16. The Great Andromeda Galaxy
  17. The Realm of the Galaxies

Field of view: 1 degree to 1/10 degree or less (medium to narrow telescopic field)

  1. Overall Telescopic Views of the Moon
  2. Close-Up Views of Lunar Craters and Other Features
  3. Sunspots and Other Solar Features
  4. Partial Eclipses of the Sun
  5. Transits of Mercury and Venus
  6. Venus Near Inferior Conjunction
  7. Jupiter and Its Moons
  8. Saturn and Its Rings and Moons
  9. Mars at Closest in Telescopes
  10. Uranus, Neptune, and Other Dim But Important Worlds
  11. A Colorful or Otherwise Striking Double Star
  12. The Great Orion Nebula
  13. A Rich Open Cluster
  14. A Bright Globular Cluster
  15. A Bright Planetary Nebula
  16. A Bright and Structured Galaxy


Image of SteveN


December 2, 2008 at 11:23 am

Seems like a great concept for an introduction to astronomy. Starting big and going small nearly the first half of the list requires no equipment at all.

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Image of George Frame

George Frame

August 29, 2010 at 10:58 am

Well, I actually have done all of these, and I don't really consider myself a particularly active observer. I suppose it's actually not so surprising. I've had an S&T subscription for 45 years, and am charter subscriber to Astronomy and the Planetary Report, been on 6 total eclipse expeditions (and saw 2), own a Unitron 2.4" refractor (since 1956), and a Celestron 8 (since 1972), plus 7x50 & 20x80 binocs and a Coronado Maxscope 40 solar telescope. For me the most awe inspiring were the two instances of totality (Mexico 1970 and the Aegean 2004) and the most unique was the transit of Venus with the Maxscope. Next in line would be aurorae in Maine at solar max in IGY 1957-58, and the Leonid meteor shower peak earlier in this century.

G. M. Frame

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Image of Sabr


April 22, 2013 at 1:44 am

very picturesque sight.

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