Notes from a Backyard Astronomer
by Vance Petriew
Messier Marathon 2002 March 15
This year's Messier Marathon at the Regina Centre was very uncertain. The clouds were unpredictable all week and ended up being unpredictable for the weekend as well. On Thursday, the clouds for Friday night looked poor but by Friday, the forecast had changed to being mostly clear. Saturday night's forecast for snow turned out to be accurate as 10 cm fell that day.
The evening started out hazy out at the Bratt Lake Solar Radiation Station. I was the first to arrive at shortly after 8:00 PM. I immediately started setting up my telescope because it was getting dark quickly. Kevin and Shirley Fleck showed up as I was setting up. Kevin ended up breaking a plastic piece on his mount in the cold (-15 degrees Celsius, -25 degrees with the windchill). I was eager to find M74 since I missed this one and M77 last year. It was a challenge but I found M74, M77, M31, M32 and M110 before I took a break to look at C/2002 C1 Ikeya-Zhang. What a wonderful comet in the eyepiece! The tail was visible for over 5 degrees! It was around this time that Scott Wilson and his friend, Marsha, showed up. The five of us did observing for a while as the sky began to clear off. The Zodiacal Light was plainly visible in the west stretching about 30 degrees up from the horizon for the next hour and a half. By 9:30 PM, Kevin and Shirley headed for a warmer location and Scott and Marsha also headed for home around 10:30 PM. Shortly before 11:00 PM, Michael Plante joined me for the rest of the night of observing. I was surprised at how many objects were still visible at 11:00 PM as Michael began his search. M74, M77 and M79 were the only ones that had set already by this time.
We observed for an hour and then the sky became very hazy. It soon turned into total overcast. We decided to wait in the vehicle and warm up. At 1:00 AM, we were able to see the Big Dipper through a hole in the clouds. We went back out observing and noticed the west clearing off. By 1:30 AM, the skies cleared and we were back in business. By 3:00 AM, fog started forming and rolling by. The local cloud mass above Regina started shifting as well and blew towards the south-east obscuring the sky in that direction. By 4:00 AM, the clouds were thick enough along the horizon to obscure all but the brightest stars. It took me the next hour to find 3 objects in this soup. By 5:00 AM, the clouds were not improving so we had decided that we were both cold, tired and ready to call it a night. A glimpse of daylight could be seen in the east at 5:40 AM as we drove back to Regina. The grand total:
So Scott Wilson's Regina record still holds at 88. Maybe next year will bring better skies and warmer temperatures! Hope you can all make it out next year!