Pierre Martin writes:

Last night (Friday, March 31, 2000), a successful Messier Marathon
session was held at Casselman despite a crazy night. In attendance
was Roland Prevost, Denis Legault, Richard Harding and myself.
Roland was there to complete his best NGC list and Richard to
continue logging deep sky objects. Denis and myself attempted the
full marathon. We each used our own Celestron C8 F/10. Denis used a
Sky Vector, but I used only star hopping with the help of some small
star charts. The Telrad and 8x50 finder were important here. My
personnal goal before starting was to get all 103 Messier objects
(the purist's list). What a night!!!

I arrived at 7:00 PM, and Denis was there with his observatory
already completely setup. The sky was relatively clear, with only a
few clouds that seemed to dissipate as the Sun went down. We awaited
impatiently to get started on M74 and M77 which would already be
very low in the west under strong twilight. However, we soon noticed
a band of patchy clouds in the west that seemed to thicken and move
higher in the sky. We were worried. The clouds kept moving and
within minutes, everything was almost clouded out!! M74 and M77 were
lost. We then tried M31 Andromeda, but no luck against thick clouds.
A short while later, Denis was quick enough to get M79 in Lepus (in
a tiny sucker hole) as it was creeping to only a few degrees of the
horizon. I didn't have any luck myself. It was now past 8:00 PM and
all we could see was Jupiter in the west, elsewhere the clouds were
coming in thick. Our hope was becoming almost nil for doing any kind
of marathon with such crappy conditions. We knew that a handful of
Messiers were going down soon, but we could do nothing but wait,
hope and eat donuts. At least, the conversations were great.

Well, just a few minutes later, the clouds were slowly breaking up
and holes began to appear with stars showing through. It didn't take
long for the sky to clear up completely. The conditions were
excellent and crisp with a magnitude of about 6.4. There was very
little haze in the sky. This gave us good horizons with less light
pollution than usual from distant cities. We were back into
business! I quickly worked my way through Orion and Puppis
confirming and noting every Messiers as I went through. There are
many of these objects that I have never seen before, so I felt I was
learning a good deal. Once all the objects in the west were done, I
worked my way into Auriga, Taurus and so on. Ursa Major has some
impressive deep sky, but a real pain because of the awkward angle my
telescope pointed. This was bad enough for M81 and M82 but well
worth the look. Then moving on to Canes Venatici, with an impressive
view of the M3 globular cluster. The Whirlpool galaxy also very
nice, with a hint of spiral structure. As I was doing the marathon,
all these objects were viewed very quickly without paying much
attention to detail. After another break for donuts, I got back to
it again to hunt down the galaxies in Leo and Coma Berenices. No
problem there. At the same time, Roland shouted in joy as he
confirmed his very last object from the best NGC objects list.

At this point; at about 11:30 PM, heavy clouds came from the west
and everything disappeared before we knew it. It looked very bad
this time. Richard decided to call it a night, but the rest of us
would wait until 1:00 AM in case of an improvement. Denis went for a
short nap, and Roland and myself went for coffee and donuts. When we
came back to the site close to 1:00 AM, we could see large breaks in
the clouds! Once again the sky was clearing and luckily, this time
it remained that way for the rest of the night. Good transparency!
It was time for the Virgo galaxy cluster, and this one gave me a
real hard time. I've never even seen them before!! I insisted on
myself to be able to not only see all those galaxies but to be able
to identify them too! It took me several attempts, but I was
eventually able to sort every one of them out. Whewwww!! I managed
to survive that one. After that, the rest seem to come much easier.
Ophiuchus and Scorpius were rising in the east and brought all the
globular clusters. It was now early morning. Again, many first views
for me! Then the "teapot" was up with some bright nebulas and more
clusters! One of them, M75 in Saggittarius was very tough and faint
by seeing it so low in the sky. With morning twilight starting, M72
in Aqua was even tougher to find but I managed by averted vision. I
noticed Andromeda rising in the east so I easily caught M31, M32 and
M110 just in time before the sky washed them out. As the sky grew
brighter, I tried hard to find M55 in Sagittarius but nothing showed
up. This one also eluded Denis Legault. When I was ready for M73, I
realized that none of my charts had it! I tried to look in the
general area where it should have been, but nothing. There was no
hope to even try for M30 in CAP, as the Sun was just a few degrees
below the horizon.

My Messier Marathon for this year stands at 103 objects!! I may have
easily gotten a few more if it was not for the evening clouds
hidding M74, M77, M79 and M33. But I am certainly satisfied to have
seen so many despite the crazy weather conditions!

Pierre

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