Messier Marathon Observing Report (March 11, 2005)

by Mike Luckow

Here's a report on the Messier Marathon that three of us attempted on the night of Friday, March 11, 2005, at Cactus Flats. The participants were Jim Adams, who is also a BASS member, Dr. Shane Rea, and myself (Mike Luckow). Also, Bill Travis was with us off and on until almost midnight, and he kindly helped us identify a few of the objects. Thanks, Bill!

I'm fairly new to astronomy, and I used my Meade 12'' LX200GPS Schmidt-Cassegrain "go-to" scope for the marathon. I know that it's considered "cheating" by some people to use a go-to scope for a Messier Marathon, and I know that Messier Marathons aren't even "real" astronomy at all. I just thought that it would be fun to see all those objects in one night anyway, and it was! I'd highly recommend it to anyone who is interested.

Mike at Cactus Flats

Altogether, we managed to see 106 of the 109 Messier Objects. (According to Steven James O'Meara, the author of "Deep Sky Companions: The Messier Objects," in an article in the March, 2005, issue of Sky and Telescope, it has now been concluded that M102 is the same object as M101, which makes the total number of Messier Objects 109, not 110.)

We started as soon as it was dark enough to see anything, and there were some scattered clouds to the west, but we eventually found all the Messier Objects in the western sky through gaps in the clouds except M74, unfortunately.

Working our way from the west to the east horizon, we were able to see about 70 objects by the time we went to bed in our tent at 1:30 a.m. We gave the world a couple hours to turn some more to expose the rest of the objects in the sky, and we dragged ourselves out of bed at 3:30 to start looking at them. We knew ahead of time that we wouldn't be able to see M30 because it was rising immediately before sunrise, when the sky would be much too bright to see it. Unfortunately, we weren't able to see M72 because it was too close to the eastern horizon and there was a little too much light there at the time, so we saw 106 Messier Objects altogether (all but M74, M72, and M30).

Anyway, it was a lot of fun even though there was some wind and blowing dust at times. I'd definitely like to try it again, and hopefully be able see all 109 of them in one night. We learned a few tricks that will help us be a little more efficient next time. For example, when morning twilight began, we should have started looking at the eastern-most objects at the end of the list and worked our way backwards toward the west where the sky was darker. Also, we spent a lot of time admiring the features and structures of the first 30 objects or so, and we didn't get much sleep as a result. Next time, we'll move more quickly during the marathon and spend more time looking at features in more detail on other nights.