Astronomical catalogs, charts, and surveys


More than 2,000 astronomical catalogs and data tables are in use. The older method of printing catalogs has been superceded by storing them on compact disks and as computer databases, which can be accessed over the Internet. Different catalogs have been compiled for different types of objects, parts of the sky, regions of the electromagnetic spectrum, and so forth. The described here are particularly important because of their generality or frequency of use, or for historical reasons. ("Catalogue" is the UK spelling, "catalog" the American spelling. The version used here for any given work is that encountered most frequently in the literature.)


ACT Catalog

The ACT Catalog is an astronomical catalog, compiled by the US Naval Observatory (USNO), to provide accurate proper motions for the majority of stars in the Tycho Catalogue. Since the Tycho Catalogue is based on data collected by the Hipparcos satellite over a relatively short period, it gives only rough values of proper motions. The USNO solved this problem by combining Tycho positions with those of the Astrographic Catalogue that date from around 1900. The result of this long baseline for computations are proper motions for 988,758 stars, covering the entire sky, that are about an order of magnitude more accurate than those published in the Tycho Catalogue.


Aitken Double Star Catalogue

The Aitken Double Star Catalogue (ADS) is the name by which Robert Aitken's massive New General Catalogue of Double Stars within 120 degrees of the North Pole is generally known. Published in two volumes by the Carnegie Institution in 1932, it superceded Sherburne Burnham's 1906 catalogue, contained measurements of 17,180 double stars north of declination -30°, and allowed orbit determinations that greatly improved knowledge of stellar masses.


Alphonsine Tables

The Alphonsine Tables is a set of tables giving the positions of the Sun, Moon, and planets, published in 1252 under the patronage of Alfonso X (1223?–1284), King of León and Castile, who had assembled, at Toledo, many of the world's leading astronomers. The tables were calculated by a team of astronomers using the principles set out by Ptolemy in the Almagest but incorporating more recent observations. They remained the standard in Europe for nearly 400 years, until superceded by the work of Johannes Kepler.


Astrographic Catalogue

The Astrographic Catalogue is part of the international Carte du Ciel program designed to photograph and measure the positions of all stars brighter than magnitude 11.0. (The brightest stars of all are missing due to their images being grossly over-exposed and, therefore, not being measured). In total, over 4.6 million stars were observed, many as faint as 13th magnitude. This project was started in the late 1800s, and most observations were made between 1895 and 1920. Data from the Astrographic Catalogue was recently used by the US Naval Observatory in producing the ACT Catalog.


Astronomical Almanac

The Astronomical Almanac is an annual joint publication of the US Naval Observatory and (since the closure of the Royal Greenwich Observatory) the UK Nautical Almanac Office, which contains information on the positions of the Sun, Moon, and planets and their satellites, phases of the Moon, eclipses, sunset and sunrise, bright stars, and locations of observatories. It began in 1980 through the merger of The American Ephemeris and Nautical Almanac, produced by the USNO between 1855 and 1980, and The Astronomical Ephemeris, which originated in Britain in 1766 as The Nautical Almanac and Astronomical Ephemeris.


Astronomische Gesellschaft Katalog

Astronomische Gesellschaft Katalog (AGK) is a standard catalogue of star positions. AGK1 was initiated by Friedrich Argelander in 1867, prepared using data from meridian circles at 17 observatories around the world, and published between 1890 and 1954; it listed the positions of some 200,000 stars down to ninth magnitude between declinations 80° and -23°. A second version, AGK2, that used photographic data from Bonn and Hamburg, was started in the 1920s and published between 1951 and 1958. The latest version, AGK3, published in 1975, lists 183,145 stars north of declination -2° and includes both positions and proper motions. All AGK positions are calculated relative to reference stars, 21,499 of which were used for AGK3 and listed in AGK3R.


Bonner Durchmusterung

The Bonner Dürchmusterung (BD) is a star atlas and catalogue listing the positions and magnitudes of 324,188 stars in the northern hemisphere to declintion 2° S and ninth magnitude. It was compiled by Friedrich Argelander in Bonn between 1859 and 1862, and extended by Eduard Schönfeld with a supplement of 133,659 southern stars to declination -23° S in 1886. Stars are numbered and designated in declination zones, for example "BD +12° 1438". Later came two more large southern star catalogues: the Cordoba Dürchmusterung produced between 1892 and 1932, and the Cape Photographic Dürchmusterung between 1895 and 1900.


Boss General Catalogue

The General Catalogue of 33,342 Stars was compiled by the American astronomer Benjamin Boss (1880-1970) and published by the Carnegie Institution of Washington, DC, in 1936. It lists the position, proper motion, magnitude, and spectral type of all stars brighter than seventh magnitude over the whole sky, plus some fainter stars for which accurate proper motions were available. It succeeded the Preliminary General Catalogue of 6,188 stars, published by Benjamin's father, Lewis Boss (1846-1912), who also initiated the larger work.


Bright Star Catalogue

The Bright Star Catalogue is a star catalogue published by Yale University Observatory and known formally as the Yale Catalog of Bright Stars; it lists all stars brighter than magnitude 6.5 contained in the Harvard Revised Photometry Catalogue. The first edition appeared in 1930 and the most recent (fifth), in electronic format, in 1991. A Supplement listing a further 2,603 stars down to magnitude 7.1 was published in 1983. Although much smaller than the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory Catalog, with 258,857 stars, or the GSC, with 18 million, the Bright Star Catalogue provides a wealth of interesting information on each of its objects, including Bayer and Flamsteed designations, proper motion, parallax, magnitude, and miscellaneous comments.


Cape Photographic Dürchmusterung

Cape Photographic Dürchmusterung (CPD) is a southern hemisphere extension of the Bonner Dürchmusterung and the first star catalogue produced from photographic measurements of the sky. The photographs were taken by the Scottish astronomer David Gill (1843–1914) at the Cape Observatory, South Africa, between 1895 and 1900, and the star positions on them measured by Jacobus Kapteyn in the Netherlands. The three-volume catalog, containing 454,877 stars down to tenth magnitude, between declination -19° and -90° (the south celestial pole), was published in 1896 to 1900.


Carte du Ciel

Carte du Ciel ("Chart of the Sky") was an ambitious program to photograph every part of the sky, showing stars as faint as 14th magnitude, and to compile a catalogue, known as the Astrographic Catalogue, from this photographic atlas, listing the positions of stars down to 11th magnitude. It was conceived by the Scottish astronomer David Gill and Admiral Mouchez, director of the Paris Observatory, who called an international conference in 1887 to initiate the project. Eighteen observatories agreed to cooperate and to adopt, as a standard design for a photographic telescope, the 13-inch refractor developed for the Paris Observatory by the brothers Paul and Prosper Henry. The sky was divided into zones and allocated to the various observatories. Although parts of the program were never completed, the plates obtained are of great value for comparison with re-photographed fields many years later.


Córdoba Durchmüsterung

Córdoba Durchmüsterung (CD) is a southern extension of the Bonner Dürchmusterung, compiled from observations at the Cordoba Observatory, Argentina, by J. M. Thome and published in the Resultados del Observatorio Nacional Argentino from 1892 onward. It includes 613,959 stars down to about tenth magnitude, south of declination -22°. Objects are referred to in the form "CD -37° 2853."


Franklin-Adams charts

The Franklin-Adams charts were an early photographic atlas of the sky by the English amateur astronomer John Franklin-Adams (1843–1912), based on plates taken at Johannesburg, South Africa, and Godalming, England, and published posthumously in 1913–1914. There are 206 charts covering the whole sky, each 15° square, and showing stars as faint as 17th magnitude.


fundamental catalogue

A fundamental catalogue is a reference catalogue listing precisely measured star positions and proper motions, obtained mostly from meridian observations over many years. Among the most important are the Fundamental Katalogs and the Boss General Catalogue.


Fundamental Katalog

Fundamental Katalog (FK) is a series of fundamental catalogues published in Germany. The first, in 1879, provided reference positions for the Astronomische Gesellschaft Katalog. There followed the second FK (NFK) in 1907, FK3 in 1937-38, and FK4 in 1963. FK5, published in 1988, contained, like its predecessor, 1,535 stars, brighter than about magnitude 7.5, distributed in a roughly evenly across the entire sky. An extension to FK5, listing a further 3,117 stars, down to magnitude 9.5, appeared in 1991.


General Catalogue of Variable Stars

The General Catalogue of Variable Stars (GCVS) is a list of all known variable stars, first published by the Russian Academy of Sciences in 1948. The fourth edition, identifying 28,435 stars, came out in three volumes in 1985-87. A companion catalogue of suspected variables is also produced, the most recent edition being the New Catalogue of Suspected Variable Stars, with 14,810 objects, in 1982.


Gliese Catalogue

The Gliese Catalogue is the usual name given to any of three catalogues of nearby stars compiled by W. Gliese and, later, also by H. Jahreiss, in 1957, 1969, and 1993; listed objects are prefixed by "Gl" or "GJ". The Gliese Catalogue attempts to list all stars within 25 parsecs (81.5 light-years) of Earth. Numbers in the range 1.0 to 965.0 are from the second edition, Catalogue of Nearby Stars (1969). The integers represent stars that were in the first edition, while the numbers with a decimal point are used to insert new stars for the second edition without destroying the original order. Numbers in the range 9001 to 9850 are from the supplement Extension of the Gliese Catalogue (1970). Numbers in the ranges 1000 to 1294 and 2001 to 2159 are from the supplement Nearby Star Data Published 1969-1978. The range 1000 to 1294 represents nearby stars, while 2001 to 2159 represents suspected nearby stars. Numbers in the range 3001 to 4388 are from Preliminary Version of the Third Catalogue of Nearby Stars (1991). Although this version of the catalogue was termed preliminary, it was still the current one as of mid-2002. Most of the 3,803 stars it lists already had GJ numbers, but there were also 1,388 which were not numbered. The need to give these 1,388 some name has resulted in them being numbered 3001 to 4388.


Groombridge Catalogue

The Groombridge Catalogue is the name by which A Catalog of Circumpolar Stars, compiled by the English astronomer Stephen Groombridge (1755-1832), is commonly known. Groombridge began observations at Blackheath, London, in 1806, and retired from the West Indian trade in 1815 to devote his full attention to the project. His catalogue, listing 4,243 stars located within 50° of the north celestial pole and having apparent magnitudes greater than 9, was published posthumously in 1838.


Guide Star Catalog

The Guide Star Catalog (GSC) is a catalog of stars, galaxies, and other celestial objects, based on a digitization of photographic sky survey plates from the Palomar and United Kingdom Schmidt telescopes. There are two versions. GSC I is used for the control and target acquisition of the Hubble Space Telescope and is an all-sky optical catalog of positions and magnitudes of approximately 19 million stars and other objects in the 6th to 15th magnitude range. GSC II contains almost a billion objects down to about twentieth magnitude and is used to support operations of the Very Large Telescope, the Gemini Observatory, and Hubble.



HabCat (Catalog of Nearby Habitable Systems) is a catalog, compiled by SETI researchers Margaret Turnbull and Jill Tarter, of star systems in the solar neighborhood that offer the best chance of supporting life on any terrestrial-type planets that may be in orbit around them. The motivation for producing the catalog was the imminent establishment of the Allen Telescope Array, which will dramatically increase the number of stars that can be systematically searched for evidence of artificial radio signals.


The first version HabCat identified 17,129 "habstars" from a set of 118,218 stars examined in Hipparcos Catalogue.


Harvard Revised Photometry Catalogue

The Harvard Revised Photometry (HR Photometry) Catalogue is a catalogue of 9,096 stars brighter than magnitude 6.5 (visible to the naked eye), published in 1908 by Edward Pickering at Harvard College Observatory. These stars are still often referred to by their HR number. The Harvard Revised Photometry Catalogue was the forerunner of Yale's Bright Star Catalogue.


Henry Draper Catalogue

The Henry Draper Catalogue (HD) is a catalogue of the spectral types and positions of 225,300 stars, down to about magnitude 8, compiled by Annie Jump Cannon and her coworkers at Harvard College Observatory between 1918 and 1924 and named in honor of Henry Draper, whose widow donated the money needed to finance it. HD numbers are widely used today, especially for stars that have no Bayer designation or Flamsteed number. Stars numbered 1 to 225300 are from the original catalogue and are numbered in order of right ascension for 1900.0. Stars in the range 225301 to 359083 are from the Henry Draper Extension (HDE), published in 1925-1936 and 1949. The notation HDE is used only for stars in this extension, but even these are usually denoted HD as the numbering ensures there can be no ambiguity.


Hipparcos Catalogue

The Hipparcos Catalogue is a catalogue of 118,218 stars, mostly down to magnitude 8 but with a sampling of dimmer ones (chosen for their unusual or interesting properties), surveyed by the Hipparcos satellite and published in 1997. It contains the most precise measurements of positions, parallaxes, proper motions, and magnitudes ever made; although for stars dimmer than the ones surveyed, other catalogues must still be used. The accurate parallaxes have led to a vastly improved knowledge of the distances of stars out to a few hundred light-years from the Sun. Magnitudes given by the Hipparcos dataset were measured using a device sensitive to a wide range of wavelengths (mostly visual). These magnitudes are unique to the detector on the satellite; they correspond roughly, but not exactly, to visual magnitudes, and are called Hipparcos magnitudes.


Index Catalogue

Two Index Catalogues (IC) were published as supplements to the New General Catalogue (NGC)1. They were compiled, as was the NGC, by John Dreyer. The first (IC I), published in 1895,2 added 1,529 new star clusters, nebulae, and galaxies; the second (IC II), published in 1908,3 listed a further 3,857 objects.


NGC 2000.0 is a modern compilation of the New General Catalogue, the Index Catalogue, and the Second Index Catalogue. It is intended to meet the needs of present-day observers by reporting positions at equinox 2000.0 and by incorporating the corrections reported by Dreyer himself and by many other astronomers who have worked with the data and compiled lists of errata.


Notable objects with IC designations include:


   IC 349 (Barnard's Merope Nebula)
   IC 405 (Flaming Star Nebula)
   IC 410 (nebula nearby the Flaming Star Nebula)
   IC 434 (bright nebula around Horsehead Nebula)
   IC 1396 (Garnet Star Nebula)
   IC 2118 (Witch Head Nebula)
   IC 2220 (Toby Jug Nebula)
   IC 2574 (Coddington's Nebula)
   IC 2602 (Southern Pleiades)
   IC 4703 (Eagle Nebula)
   IC 5070 (Pelican Nebula)
   IC 5146 (Cocoon Nebula)



1. Dreyer, J. L. E. 1888, "New General Catalogue of Nebulae and Clusters of Stars." Mem. Roy. Astron. Soc., Vol. 49, Part I. Reprinted 1953, London, Royal Astronomical Society. NGC.
2. Dreyer, J. L. E. 1895, "Index Catalogue of Nebulae Found in the Years 1888 to 1894, with Notes and Corrections to the New General Catalogue." Mem. Roy. Astron. Soc., Vol. 51, p. 185. Reprinted 1953, London, Royal Astronomical Society. IC I, IC 1-1529.
3. Dreyer, J. L. E. 1908, "Second Index Catalogue of Nebulae Found in the Years 1895 to 1907; with Notes and Corrections to the New General Catalogue and to the Index Catalogue for 1888 to 1894." Mem. Roy. Astron. Soc., Vol. 59, Part 2, p. 105. Reprinted 1953, London, Royal Astronomical Society. IC II, IC 1530-5386.


Messier Catalogue

Main entry.


The Messier Catalogue is a list of 110 nebulous-looking celestial objects, including open clusters, globular clusters, diffuse nebulae, planetary nebulae, and galaxies, the first 103 of which were compiled by Charles Messier in the eighteenth century.


New General Catalogue of Nebulae and Star Clusters

The New General Catalogue of Nebulae and Star Clusters (NGC) is an important catalogue of nebulae, star clusters, and galaxies, the original version of which was published in Ireland in 1888 under the authorship of John Dreyer. It contained 7,840 northern-sky objects and was a revised and enlarged version of the General Catalogue of Nebulae and Clusters published in 1864 by John Herschel. Additional objects were listed in two Index Catalogues. The current version of the NGC and IC catalogues, known as NGC.2000, covers the entire sky and provides data on more than 13,100 objects. Errata compiled by Dreyer and by subsequent workers have been incorporated into the new version and the object types have been updated with information from modern astronomy; descriptions given by Dreyer (often cryptic) have been retained.


Palomar Observatory Sky Survey

The Palomar Observatory Sky Survey (POSS) is a photographic survey of the sky from the north celestial pole to Dec. -30°, carried out using the 1.2-meter Schmidt telescope at Palomar Observatory and financed by the National Geographic Society. The original survey, POSS-I, completed in 1958, involved 936 pairs of plates 0.355 meters square with a field of view of 6.5°, each consisting of one plate sensitive to red light and one to blue light. A second survey, POSS-II, was started in 1985 from the north celestial pole to the equator using modern plates, and, when complete, consisted of 894 fields in blue, red, and infrared light. POSS II has also been converted to digitized form (i.e., the photographic plates were scanned), as the Digitized Sky Survey (DSS).


Shapley-Ames Catalogue

The Shapley-Ames Catalogue is a catalogue of 1,246 bright galaxies, down to magnitude 13.2, published by Harlow Shapley and Adelaide Ames in 1932. It became the standard listing of bright galaxies and played a major role in studies of galaxies in the local region. A revised version was published by Allan Sandage and G. A. Tammann in 1981.


Sloan Digital Sky Survey

Main entry.


The Sloan Digital Sky Survey is the first CCD photometric survey of the North Galactic hemisphere and the most ambitious astronomical survey ever undertaken.


Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory Catalog

The Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory Catalog (SAO Catalog) is a catalogue of 258,997 stars, mostly down to magnitude 8.5 plus a few dimmer stars, published by the Smithsonian Astronomical Observatory in 1966. It identifies objects in the form: SAO ####; for example, Vega is listed as SAO 67174.


Southern Reference Stars

Southern Reference Stars (SRS) is a list of 20,488 stars in the southern hemisphere intended to supplement the AGK3R in the north, to extend coverage of reference stars across the whole sky for calibrating photographic surveys. Observations of stars, mostly of magnitudes 7.5 to 9.5, were made at a dozen observatories between 1961 and 1973, and coordinated at the US Naval Observatory and Pulkovo Observatory.


Southern Sky Survey

The Southern Sky Survey is a photographic survey of the sky south of declination -17°, carried out jointly by the 1.2-meter United Kingdom Schmidt Telescope at Siding Spring and the European Southern Observatory's 1-meter Schmidt camera. Both these instruments have the same focal length as the 1.2-meter Oschin Schmidt, which produced the northern-hemisphere Palomar Observatory Sky Survey, so the scale of the plates in each survey is identical.


Tycho Catalogue

The Tycho Catalogue contains data collected as part of the overall mission of the Hipparcos satellite; it represents a catalogue of position, parallax, proper motion, and magnitude data collected for over one million stars. In most cases, its precision is much greater than all earlier catalogues. About the only case in which the Tycho data would be ignored would be if Hipparcos data is available instead. The Tycho data is essentially a survey of all stars that were bright enough to be measured by the detector, and is essentially complete to about magnitude 10.5, with somewhat incomplete coverage to magnitude 11 or 11.5.



Uranometria was the first star atlas to cover the entire sky, published by Johann Bayer in 1603 and based on positions taken from Tycho Brahe's catalogue. It contained 51 charts, one for each of Ptolemy 48 constellations, one for the southernmost skies which were unknown to Ptolemy (introducing 12 new southern constellations defined by the Dutch navigators Keyser and de Houtmann), and two planispheres. Uranometria also introduced the Bayer designations, which are still used today.


Zwicky Catalogue

The Zwicky Catalogue is the popular name for the Catalogue of Galaxies and of Clusters of Galaxies (also referred to simply as "The Red Book") published in six volumes in 1961–68 by Fritz Zwicky and his colleagues. It contains 31,350 galaxies and 9,700 clusters recorded on plates of the Palomar Observatory Sky Survey and introduces a system of classifying clusters as compact, medium compact, or open that is still used. Compact galaxies identified in the Zwicky Catalogue are often known as Zwicky galaxies.