More than 10,000 astronomical catalogues are freely available online at the Centre de Données Astronomique de Strasbourg (CDS). From there you can either download complete data files or obtain selections through their online applications, Simbad or VizieR.
There is no doubt that the best way today to access a huge amount of astronomical data online is through AstroGrid, an international cooperative effort among professional astronomers but available for amateurs to use. It involves downloading and installing some Java applications but that is very easy and full instructions are available on the AstroGrid web site. Install the Virtual Observatory (VO) Desktop and you can search the world for astronomical data of all kinds. You can even contribute to the effort by analysing the data and providing results or by adding to the software.
Much of the data online has been collected by professional astronomers but only analysed for the particular aspects relevant to their projects. Therefore there may well be opportunities for amateurs to discover interesting new things. Mining the data is a worthwhile pursuit as an alternative to suffering outside on cold nights.
Associated with AstroGrid (and communicating with it by software) is a very useful data visualisation application called TOPCAT (Tool for OPerations on Catalogues And Tables). This makes it easy to load data files in various formats and plot histograms, and 2D or even rotatable 3D graphs. It is like a spreadsheet but designed for analysing astronomical data, with far more relevant functions than a general spreadsheet. It is easy to download and highly recommended.
The rest of the information on this page was compiled in 1981 or earlier and so does not contain recent references. It remains here for historical interest.
Astronomers have compiled many hundreds of catalogues and it can be difficult to find information about any particular object. The lists given below are intended to assist beginners in finding information; the lists are by no means comprehensive, and include only a few of the most important sources.
The brightest stars are known by their names, by the Bayer letters (e.g. β Tauri) or by Flamsteed numbers (e.g. 61 Cygni). These, and fainter stars, are known by their numbers in various star catalogues. In the lists we have sometimes indicated a usual abbreviation by giving a specimen reference.
- C. W. Allen, Astrophysical Quantities, Athlone Press, London, 1973 (Third Edition). Contains lists of the 100 nearest stars, 100 brightest stars, visual, spectroscopic and eclipsing binaries, flare stars, novae, pulsars, planetary nebulae, radio sources, star clusters, galaxies, quasars and clusters of galaxies, together with much other information about these objects. A valuable general compilation.
- The Observer's Handbook, Royal Astronomical Society of Canada (published annually). Data for the 286 stars brighter than magnitude 3.55 visual. Includes modern magnitudes, colour indices, spectral types and luminosities, as well as positions, parallaxes, and other data. Also contains lists of selected double and multiple stars, variable stars, the nearest stars, galactic nebulae, Messier objects, star clusters, galaxies and radio sources.
- A. Becvar, Atlas Coeli Skalnate Pleso, Prague, 1959 (revised edition). The Atlas Catalogue, which was designed to accompany the Atlas, contains information on 6362 stars to magnitude 6.25 (positions, proper motions, magnitudes, spectral types, parallaxes and radial velocities, and other information), together with lists of double stars, variable stars, novae, star clusters, galactic nebulae and galaxies.
- Astronomical Catalogues 1951-75, M. Collins, Inspec Bibliography Series No. 2, Institution of Electrical Engineers, London, 1977. A bibliography of catalogues, totalling 2500 items.
- Catalogue of Bright Stars, D. Hoffleit, Yale University Observatory (Third Edition), 1964. Approximate positions, proper motions, magnitudes, spectral types, parallaxes, radial velocities, etc., for 9110 stars brighter than magnitude 6.5 visual. Also contains constellation limits, index to Bayer and Flamsteed numbers and star names. Stars are the same as Revised Harvard Photometry. This is a most valuable general compilation (e.g. BS 5058 or HR 5058).
- Arizona-Tonantzintla Catalogue. Data on 1325 bright stars. Sky and Telescope, July 1965.
General star catalogues
- Bonner Durchmusterung, by F. W. A. Argelander, 185942, with extension by E. Schönfeld, 1886. Argelander observed declinations +90° to -2°, and Schönfeld -2° to -23°; about 458,000 stars in . Nominally to magnitude 9.5 visual, but magnitudes fainter than 9 are erroneous, and many stars range down to 10.5. Positions (for 1855.0) and magnitudes are given; they are not of high accuracy (all observed visually) but are very valuable for tracing and identifying stars because of comprehensive nature of catalogue (e.g. BD + 70° 1275).
- Cordoba Durchmusterung, published in Cordoba Resultados, Vols. 16, 17, 18 and 21. About 614,000 stars, declinations -22° to -90°. (Limiting magnitude appreciably brighter for stars south of -52° than for stars north of -52°.) Positions (for 1875.0) and magnitudes (e.g. CoD -34° 6041). Magnitude limit about 10.
- Cape Photographic Durchmusterung, published in Cape Annals, 3, 4 and 5. About 455,000 stars, declinations -19° to -90°. Positions (for 1875.0) and magnitudes (e.g. CPD -47° 9461). Magnitude limit about 10.
- Astronomische Gesellschaft Catalogues. Older catalogues are based on meridian circle observations, later catalogues on photographic observations. For the former, zones of declination were allocated to various observatories. For the latter, the work was done at Hamburg-Bergedorf and Bonn. The former catalogues became known as the Astronomische Gesellschaft Zone Catalogues. The later work is known as the AGK2. It is published in 15 volumes, covering the northern hemisphere. AGK2 contains accurate positions (for 1950.0) and approximate photographic magnitudes for about 183,000 stars. A new catalogue, AGK3, in eight volumes, was published in 1975.
- Yale Catalogues. Published in Yale Observatory Transactions, Vols. 11-31. They are complete from declination +30° to -50°, together with zones +85° to +90°, +50° to +60° and -70° to -90°. They have the great merit that proper motions are given for all the stars as well as magnitudes and accurate positions and spectral types for most stars. Most catalogues are for 1950.0. The very brightest stars are omitted. Magnitude limit about 9 visual (e.g. Yale 17, 8089).
- Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory Star Catalog, Smithsonian Publication 4652, U.S. Government Printing Office, Washington, D.C., 1966 (four volumes). Positions, proper motions and magnitudes for 258,997 stars (e.g. SAO 85009).
Fundamental star catalogues
These contain positions of the highest possible accuracy for a limited number of stars, and form the basic frame of reference against which other star positions are measured.
- Fourth Fundamental Catalogue (FK4), W. Fricke et al., Veröffentl. Astron. Rechnen-Institzut, Heidelberg, No. 10, 1963. This catalogue contains the most accurately known positions, and these 1535 stars are listed in the annual volumes Apparent Places of Fundamental Stars.
- General Catalogue of 33,342 Stars, B. Boss, Carnegie Institution Publication 468, 1936 (five volumes). All stars to magnitude 7 and some fainter ones. Of lower accuracy than FK4, but larger number of stars is an important feature. Contains positions, proper motions, magnitudes and spectral types (e.g. GC 12104).
Stellar parallaxes, radial velocities & proper motions
- General Catalogue of Trigonometrical Stellar Parallaxes, L. F. Jenkins, Yale University Observatory, 1952. 5822 stars, all known parallaxes as at 1950. A Supplement appeared in 1963.
- General Catalogue of Stellar Radial Velocities, R. E. Wilson, Carnegie Institution Publication 601, 1953. 15,107 stars, all known radial velocities as at 1950.
- Bibliography of Stellar Radial Velocities, H. A. Abt and E. S. Biggs, Kitt Peak National Observatory, 1972. Contains about 44,000 references for 25,000 stars.
- W. J. Luyten, Catalogue of 9867 Stars in the Southern Hemisphere with proper motions exceeding 0.2 annually, University of Minnesota, 1957. Luyten has published numerous other lists of stars of large proper motion.
- Catalogue of stars within a distance of 22 parsecs from the Sun: W. Gliese, Veröffentl. Astron. Rechnen-Institut, Heidelberg, No. 22, 1969. A supplement was published by W. Gliese and H. Jahreiss, Astron. Astrophys. Suppl., 38, 423, 1979. Another catalogue of nearby stars was given by R. Woolley et al., Royal Obs. Annals, 5, 1970.
- Proper Motions of Stars in the Zone Catalogue of 20,847 Stars, H. Spencer Jones and J. Jackson, Royal Observatory Cape, 1936; Cape Photographic Catalogue for 1950, J. Jackson and R. H. Stoy, Annals Cape Obs., 17-21. These two catalogues together cover declinations -30° to -90°.
- A Catalogue of High Velocity Stars, O. J. Eggen, Royal Obs. Bull., No. 84, 1964. Lists 656 stars with velocities exceeding 100 km/sec with respect to the Sun.
- A Catalogue of Parallax Stars with MK Spectral Classifications, L. A. Breakiron and A. R. Upgren, Astrophys. J. Suppl., 41, 709, 1979.
- Henry Draper Catalogue, Harvard Annals, 91-99, 1918-24. 225,300 spectral types, complete to 8m.25 in N. Hemisphere and 8m.75 in S. Hemisphere, with many fainter stars. Also gives BD numbers for δ > -23°, CoD for -23° > δ > -52° and CPD for δ < -52°. One of the most useful catalogues ever produced (e.g. HD 125248).
- Henry Draper Extension, Harvard Annals, 100 and 102. 133,700 stars in various regions of sky, to magnitude 12.
- Many spectral types determined at Harvard and elsewhere have been incorporated in other catalogues and not published separately. See, for example, the Yale Catalogues and the General Catalogue, as well as the parallax and radial velocity catalogues and references listed above.
- Catalogue of Stellar Spectra Classified in the Morgan-Keenan System, C. Jaschek, H. Conde and A. C. de Sierra, Obs. Astron. Univ. Nacional La Plata, Ser. Astron. 28 (2), 1964. 20,857 entries.
- Michigan Spectral Catalogue, Vol. 1, N. Houk and A. Cowley, 1975; Vol. 2, N. Houk, 1978. Volume I contains 36,382 stars between declinations -90° and -53°; Volume 2, 30,400 stars between -53° and -40°. Part of a project to reclassify all the HD stars on the MK system.
- M. S. Roberts, A.J., 67, 79, 1962, gives a catalogue of Wolf-Rayet stars; H. W. Babcock, Ap. J. Suppl., 3, 141, 1958, a catalogue of magnetic stars; J. L. Greenstein, Handbuch der Physik, 50, 162, 1958, data on 81 better-known white dwarfs; W. P. Bidelman, Ap. J. Suppl., 1, 175, 1954, a catalogue of emission stars of types later than B; L. R. Wakerling, Mem. Roy. Astron. Soc., 73, 153, 1970, a catalogue of early-type emission-line stars.
Stellar magnitudes, colour indices & polarizations
Most of the catalogues listed above include the magnitudes of the stars.
- V. M. Blanco, S. Demers, G. C. Douglass and M. P. Fitzgerald, Pubs. U.S. Naval Obs., 21, 1968, give a compilation of 34,807 magnitudes on the UBV system.
- W. A. Hiltner, Astrophys. J. Suppl., 2, 389, 1956; J. S. Hall, Pubs. U.S. Naval Obs., 17, No. VI, 1958; D. S. Mathewson and V. L. Ford, Mem. Roy. Astron. Soc., 74, 139, 1970. Polarization observations of many northern and southern stars.
- New General Catalogue of Double Stars, R. G. Aitken, Carnegie Institution Publication 417, 1932 (two volumes). The standard reference for stars north of -30°. 17,180 stars (e.g. ADS 6175).
- Southern Double Star Catalogue, R. T. A. Innes, Union Observatory, Johannesburg, 1926-27. For stars south of -19° (abbreviation: SDS).
- General Catalogue of Double Stars within 121° of the North Pole, S. W. Burnham, Carnegie Institution Publication 5, 1906 (two volumes). 13,665 stars, selected with wider limits than ADS. Incorporates much information not repeated in ADS.
- Index Catalogue of Double Stars, H. M. Jeffers, W. H. van den Bos and F. M. Greeby, Lick Obs. Publ., 21, 1963.
- Third Catalogue of Orbits of Visual Binary Stars, W. S. Finsen and C. E. Worley, Rep. Obs. Circ. (Johannesburg), No. 129, 1970.
- Seventh Catalogue of the Orbital Elements of Spectroscopic Binary Systems, A. H. Batten, J. M. Fletcher and P. J. Mann, Pub. Dominion Astrophys. Obs., 15, 121, 1978. Data for 978 systems.
- General Catalogue of Variable Stars, B. V. Kukarkin et al., Third Edition, Moscow, 1969. Data on 22,649 stars. Supplements appear every few years.
- J. Robertson, Catalog of 3539 Zodiacal Stars for the equinox 1950.0, Astron. Pap. Amer. Ephemeris, 10, Part 2, 1940 (e.g. ZC 2372). Used in lists of stars to be occulted by the Moon. In such lists, and elsewhere, star names of the typical types 43 H. Cep., 389 B. Cet., 119 H1 Tau. and 16 G. Sgr. will also be found. These are taken from a Fundamental Catalogue by Newcomb, and refer to the numbers in star catalogues by Hevelius, Bode, Heis and Gould, respectively.
- A. S. Bennett, Mem. Roy. Astron. Soc., 68, 163, 1961. The Cambridge revised 3C catalogue (e.g. 3C 274).
- J. D. H. Pilkington and P. F. Scott, Mem. Roy. Astron. Soc., 69, 183, 1965; J. F. R. Gower, P. F. Scott and D. Wills, ibid., 71, 49, 1967. The Cambridge 4C catalogue (e.g. 4C 58.40).
- Australian J. Phys., 17, 340, 1964; 18, 329, 1965; 19, 35, 837, 1966; 20, 109, 1967; 21, 377, 1968. The Parkes Catalogue. Many additional papers in ibid., 1965-68, discuss identifications of radio sources. A later survey of southern sources appeared in Australian J. Phys. Supplements, 1971 onwards (e.g. PKS 2238-31).
- A master list of radio sources, R. S. Dixon, Astrophys. J. Suppl., 20, 1, 1970. Incorporates and gives references to many catalogues.
Clusters, nebulae & galaxies
- New General Catalogue of Nebulae and Clusters of Stars, J. L. E. Dreyer, Mem. Roy. Astron. Soc., 49, Part 1, 1888, with supplements (Index Catalogues) in ibid., 51, 185, 1895; 59, 105, 1910. Later reprinted in one volume by Royal Astronomical Society (e.g. NGC 4594).
- Second Reference Catalogue of Bright Galaxies, G. de Vaucouleurs, A. de Vaucouleurs and H. G. Corwin, University of Texas Press, 1976. Data on 4364 galaxies.
- Revised New General Catalogue of Nonstellar Astronomical Objects, J. W. Sulentic and W. G. Tifft, University of Arizona Press, 1973. Information on 7840 objects.
- Catalogue of Galactic Planetary Nebulae, L. Perek and L. Kohoutek, Academia, Prague, 1967.
- J. H. Taylor and R. N. Manchester, Astron. J., 80, 794, 1975. List of properties of 147 pulsars.
- W. Forman et al., Astrophys. J. Suppl., 38, 357, 1978. Fourth UHURU catalogue of X-ray sources.