Pathways Observing Award

Download in PDF format

The Pathways Observing Program is a unique program designed specifically for the beginning observer. It is designed to help the new observer learn their way around the sky and to teach some of the basics of the night sky WITHOUT binoculars or a telescope!

There are 4 levels to this award: Bronze, Silver, Gold and Platinum.

The program is designed to be completed in any order. Whichever group is completed first becomes the Bronze Level, the second is the Silver Level; third is the Gold level and the last group completed becomes the Platinum Level. The entire program is set up to be completed in less than a year- a group per season. You can submit for your certificate one group at a time or wait until you compete all four groups and submit everything at once.

The Pathways Observing Program will take you on an exciting naked-eye journey through the heavens. You will meet a few of the brighter stars, learn their names and the constellations in which they are found.

You will visit some of the planets that share our solar system. You will also learn the basics of observing, how to read a chart or planisphere, how to find and identify constellations, asterisms and stars. In addition, you will learn that the night sky is not just about dots and fuzzy blobs, but about history, culture, and stories. The goal will be to draw, identify, and describe constellations and learn the difference between an asterism and a constellation.

Once you have completed the Pathways Observing Program, you should be well acquainted with the night sky and be ready to continue your observing with one or more of the HAA Observing Programs, e.g., the Rising Star Observing Program; the Messier Observing Program, etc.

Recommended equipment:
• Planisphere (also called a Star Wheel): A map of the night sky – See Appendix A for how to make your own!
• Notepad and pen
• Red flashlight
• A comfortable chair
• Bring a friend

The HAA offers special recognition in the form of a four-part Pathways Observing Program certificate for those that have observed all of the required objects. To qualify for each consecutive Pathways Observing Award you must complete the observations of each module. The modules may be completed in any order that is convenient but they are designed to be completed consecutively. You must be a member of the HAA and to obtain a certificate you must observe the following rules:

Rule 1:
Visually observe the required objects and keep a record of your observations.
Your notes must include: a. Date and Time of observations (indicate Local time or UT, which is Universal Time) b. Object identification
c. Observing Location (distance from nearest town). d. Seeing and Transparency e. A description of the object as it appears to your eye.
f. A sketch of the object.

Rule 2:
Have your observing record examined by the HAA Pathways Observing Program Coordinator.
Be sure to include your name, mailing address, email address, phone number. Upon successful completion of the requirements a numbered certificate will be presented to you at a future meeting of the HAA. If you choose to receive the certificate by mail, be sure to indicate that choice on your submission form. The certificate will be suitable for framing.

Rule 3:
Since the purpose of the Pathways Observing Program is to familiarize the observer with the nature and location of the objects in the sky with the naked-eye, the use of an atlas and a planisphere is encouraged in helping you find these objects. Try to use electronic devices for reference only and not as a device to point your eye in the right direction.
The purpose of this is so that you learn the sky and learn how to associate a map with the real sky. Learn how to get from here to there without the electronics. The knowledge of being able to perform this will always be of benefit in the future.

Take your time, enjoy yourself, and have fun!
This program is meant to be completed using only your eyes.

Let’s meet … Polaris

Polaris is known as the North Star. Polaris is always visible during the year from the Northern half of the Earth, and all the other constellations “spin” around it during the four seasons:

Let’s meet some more stars!

The Big Dipper is an asterism* in the constellation** Ursa Major (The Big Bear). The stars in the Big Dipper are key to finding your way around the night sky. Once you know the Big Dipper and its stars, you will be able to find many great sky objects!!! Polaris is found in the asterism the Little Dipper in the constellation Ursa Minor (The Little Bear). The Big and Little Dipper can be found in the sky all year long!

**A constellation is a pattern formed by a group of stars which can be seen with the unaided eye. These patterns have been designated by the International Astronomical Union (IAU). There are 88 constellations!

*An asterism is also a pattern formed by a group of stars which can be seen with the unaided eye, but they are not designated as a constellation by the IAU.

Merak and Dubhe: These are the pointer stars that help you find the north star, Polaris.

Mizar and Alcor are sometimes called the Horse and Rider. They are called “double stars”. When you look at them with your eyes, you may only see one star. If you look through binoculars you will see the 2 stars!

The other stars in the Big Dipper are used to point to other constellations and stars. See the next page.

10 Steps to finding 10 constellations using the Big Dipper:

  1. Go from Merak to Dubhe (the pointers) and over to Polaris (the North Star) in the Little Dipper,
  2. Go from Dubhe to Merak and you will reach the constellation Leo.
  3. Alioth, Mizar, Alcor, Alkaid, Arcturus and Spica:
    a.) The stars Alioth, Mizar, Alcor, and Alkaid in the handle of the Big Dipper form an ‘arc’;
    b.) Follow this ‘arc’ to Arcturus, the bright star in the constellation Bootes.
    c.) Keep going until you ‘Spike’ down to shining Spica. Spica is that bright star in the
    constellation Virgo.
  4. Megrez to Dubhe (top of the dipper bowl) points to bright Capella, in the constellation Auriga.
  5. Megrez through Merak points to Castor in the constellation Gemini.
  6. Start at Alioth and go through Polaris and you will arrive at the constellation Cassiopeia
  7. Start at Alioth, and go through the double stars Mizar and Alcor and you will arrive at the constellation Hercules.
  8. Start at Megrez and go through Phecda and continue on to the bright star Regulus in the constellation Leo.
  9. Go the other way from Phecda to Megrez and turn slightly left out to the bright star Vega in the constellation Lyra.
  10. Go from Phecda to Megrez and out to the bright star Deneb in the constellation Cygnus the Swan.

Pathways Award Submission Form (Download in PDF format)

Name as you would like to have it appear on the certificate:

Phone: __________________________________________________

Email: __________________________________________________

The Four Groups to Complete

These four Planets are to be observed in any order, reporting one per Group: Venus, Mars, Saturn, Jupiter.

Group A (Generally seen in the Spring)
Constellations: Find, observe, sketch: Ursa Major, Bootes, Virgo
Stars: Find, observe, sketch: Polaris, Arcturus, Spica
Asterisms: Find, observe, sketch: a.) Big Dipper (Asterism in Ursa Major)
b.) Great Diamond (Stars: Cor Caroli, Arcturus, Spica, Denebola)
c.) Sickle (The star Regulus and the other stars in the head of Leo)
Planet: Find observe and sketch: Any one planet on the list.
Activity: Use the pointer stars to find Polaris

Group B (Generally seen in the Summer)
Constellations: Find, observe, sketch: Cepheus, Hercules, Scorpius
Stars: Find, observe, sketch: Altair, Vega, Antares
Asterisms: Find, observe, sketch: a.) Dragon Head (The four stars in the head of the constellation Draco)
b.) Hercules Keystone (The four stars that create the square in the constellation Hercules)
c.) Summer Triangle (The stars Vega, Altair, Deneb)
Planet: Any one planet that is remaining in the list.

Group C (Generally seen in the Fall)
: Find, observe, sketch: Perseus, Cygnus, Lyra
Stars: Find, observe, sketch: Algol, Deneb, Fomalhaut
Asterisms: Find, observe, sketch: a.) Great Square (The four stars that create the square in the constellation Andromeda/Pegasus)
b.) Northern Cross (The stars are found in the constellation Cygnus)
c.) Circlet (The five stars that create the head of the constellation Pisces)
Planet: Any one planet that is remaining in the list.

Group D (Generally seen in the Winter)
: Find, observe, sketch: Taurus, Orion, Gemini
Stars: Find, observe, sketch: Sirius, Betelgeuse, Capella
Asterisms: Find, observe, sketch: a.) Head of the Whale (The five stars that create the head of the constellation Cetus)
b.) Winter Triangle (The stars Procyon, Betelgeuse, Sirius)
c.) Winter Hexagon (The stars Procyon, Sirius, Rigel, Aldebaran, Capella, Pollux)
Planet: Any one planet that is remaining in the list.

Address: __________________________________________________

✓ I am submitting my observation information for the:

Pathways Observing Award Group: A _____ B_____ C_____ D_____

_____ I prefer to have my certificate presented at a general meeting of the HAA

_____ I prefer to pick up my certificate (no presentation) at a meeting of the HAA
_____ I prefer to have my certificate mailed to me.

Certification: I certify that I have followed the rules of this program.


Mail to: HAA Observing Awards
P.O. Box 65578
Dundas, Ontario
Canada L9H 6Y6

Make your own Planisphere (Star Wheel)

First, you’ll need to display (left mouse click) or download (right mouse click) the two parts for your Star Wheel (also known as a planisphere). Make sure your computer can display PDF files; if it can’t, download and install the free Adobe Reader.

Part 1, which is the circular sky map.

Part 2, which is the star wheel’s outer sleeve.
Each part for the Star Wheel is sized to fit on a single sheet of letter-size paper. Print out both sheets and cut out the parts. For the sky map (Part 1), trim away the gray corners so that you’re left with a circle 8 inches across. For the outer sleeve (Part 2), make sure you keep the large white rectangle at the bottom; also, cut out the white oval in the middle.

To make a Star Wheel, fold the white rectangle at the bottom of the outer sleeve so it’s underneath the front. Then staple the rectangle to the front at the locations marked by short white lines to either side of the oval. Now slip in the circular sky map so it shows through the oval. That’s it!