Subject: Sat March 16/17, 2002 Messier marathon...
Date: Wed, 20 Mar 2002 22:22:45
From: Pierre Martin <p.martin@cyberus.ca>

As the evening twlight grew darker at Beckwith Park (near Carleton
Place, south-west of Ottawa), the very thin Moon was quite a sight at
low magnification. Binoculars and wide field of views showed a very
contrasting earthshine. Further down in the west, Venus was shining
brilliantly. In any case, what everybody was eager to check out was
comet Ikeya-Zhang. Somebody managed to pick up the fuzz ball even
under deep twilight conditions. It was quite easy to pick out in
binos, so we knew we were in for a good show. For the next half hour
or so, this bright comet was remarkable. Through binoculars, it
looked like an "out of focus" star with a thin obvious tail of a few
degrees long pointing straight up. Through the telescopes, it was
really awesome. The most memorable view of Ikeya-Zhang for me was
through Rock's monster 16" dobsonian (thanks Rock!!). It looked like
a veritable cosmic searchlight! With a very bright buish star-like
core, coma and obvious gaz tail extending well beyond the field of
view, it was much better than I expected. This comet very much
reminded me of a smaller version of Hyakutake from 1996.

After a few minutes enjoying the comet, I wasted no time to get going
on the Messier marathon. I was setup with my 8" SCT. My method
consisted of star hopping simply using the Telrad and a low
power/rich field eyepiece. The critical early part of the evening was
a bit challenging, especially M74. What made matters even tougher for
me was a single pine tree that was suddenly in the way of my line of
sight for M74. I had to move my scope, and finally before it got too
low I was able to see the faint smudge of this galaxy. The rest of
the marathon was lots of fun. I found it easier to navigate in the
Virgo realm of galaxies than when I did the marathon two years ago.
The trick for me was to use the lowest magnification (wide field of
view) and simple star charts that showed exactly where those galaxies
were. I simply hopped from one to the other, carefully comparing what
I had on my charts to ensure I knew which ones I was seeing. When I
finished the realm of galaxies in Virgo, I was ready for a break.

Near midnight, the pizza delivery arrived and we all took a break
from intense observing for a well deserved snack. We joked that there
must not be that many activities involving being together in a park
in the middle of no where, late in the night and eating pizza when
it's -8C :)

After the quick break, it was marathon time again... this time with
the Spring and Summer constellations slowly coming up in the east. I
kept going with Denis's list, checking the time off one after the
other. Many of those Messiers had not been visited since a long time,
so it was nice to see them again. There were a few of the open star
clusters that were so loose (especially in Cygnus and Sagittarius)
that I had to rely on a photo to confirm the star patterns that I was
seeing. The morning dawn seemed to arrive very quickly. At that time,
everybody seemed to be pointing their scopes very low to try and
catch those last few Messiers lying near the horizon. When I noticed
the first hint of twilight, I knew I had to speed up the process.
This is were I began to run into some problems. It was a very humid
night, and at this point there was a thick layer of frost everywhere.
Every few minutes or so, my Telrad and eyepieces would get all
frosted and I would see nothing. Thankfully, a quick blast of hot air
from my dew gun rectified the problem in no time but still... it was
happening frequently. Just as the sky was quickly brightening, I
began to search for M72 in Aquarius. Then... more frost and I
couldn't see anything. I finally gave up on M72 and went for the
small cluster of stars nearby known as M73. I confirmed it just on
time in the brightening sky. I didn't both to try for M75 and M55.
Well, I'm very pleased with the results. I managed to beat my record
from two years ago and got in 106 Messiers!

Pierre Martin
Ottawa, Ontario

Ottawa Valley Astronomy and
Observers Group (OAOG)