Subject: 2002 Messier Marathon
Date: Mon, 01 Apr 2002
From: Doug Wayland <>

My First Messier Marathon
by Doug Wayland

Saturday, March 16th was extremely clear and anticipation for a great
Messier Marathon was high. The only down side was that the beautiful
clear skies were the product of an arctic high pressure
ridge.Temperatures were predicted to be in the -20 C range and if that wasn't enough, brisk
north winds would make the wind chill feel like -30, risk of frost bite was high.

Twelve club members including myself turned out for a pot luck
dinner and the marathon at the observatory. The food was fantastic.
We ate at about 18:00 and were outside to start the marathon by 18:45.
I logged M 45 at 18:51 and M 42 at 18:58. That was all we could get in
the still bright sky. A thin crescent moon was etching an arc low in the western sky, what a
beautiful sight in the low power eyepiece.

Scopes set up outside were my Meade 8" LX 10 SCT, Brians 6" Tal 150-PM
newtonian, Gerhards home made 10" dobby, the clubs 10" dob, the clubs C-8 and Ryans
small refractor. Some members were using binoculars on tri-pods. Glen, Maurice and Rod
was using the 24" cassegrain inside the dome.

We don't have a real low horizon to the west so the sky was still bright
when we went looking for our first two evening rush hour targets, M 74
and M 77. We wanted to catch them before they set below the trees. I
could identify enough stars in my finder to know I was on target for
both, but couldn't actually see them in the eyepiece so we missed them.
I also knew that comet Ikeya-Zhang was near M 74 and was thinking of
going for it when at 19:08 Brian shouted "I see the comet". Boy was he
excited. He showed me where it was and I got it in the eyepiece as well.

Even in the still bright sky a tail was visible. Everybody was excited
and all instruments were trained on the comet. We had a bit of time
before we had to move on to the next Messier objects so we admired the
comet for about 45 minutes. As it got darker and the comet was starting
to dip into the tree tops, it got much more impressive. I'm not good at
estimating magnitudes, but it probably was around mag 4. It was barely
visible to the naked eye. It was most spectacular in binoculars, sporting
about a three degree long tail. In my LX 10 and 35mm Ultima eyepiece the
nucleus was bright with fuzz all around and the tail extended out of the
field of view. This alone made the marathon a memorable experience.
Everyone forgot about the cold for awhile and the marathon.

Suddenly I realized that M 79 had slipped behind some trees from my
vantage point. I thought I had missed what should have been a sure
score. Then I looked over to where the C-8 was set up. I ran over there and could see that
M 79 would still be in the open for a short while. I steered the C-8
around and lined up where M 79 should be and without using charts spotted it between the two
stars that flank it on the north and south. I logged it as number three
for me seen at 19:42, that was close.

Then it was time to start the marathon in earnest. I had printed out
finder charts from my Sky Tools software ahead of time and had them in
sequential order. That contributed greatly to my successful and speedy
finding of objects. I logged M 31, 32, 110 and 33 in quick succession, then to Cassiopeia for
M 52 and 103. M 76 and 34 fell next in Perseus. Then back to Orion for M
78 and M 43, which was not visible earlier when I got M 42 in the bright sky. I won't
list all that I have seen, but I finished all the rest of the list up to
the Virgo cluster by 21:50. It was time to go into the observatory class
room to warm up. My fingers and feet were numb. By the article in
Astronomy magazine I was a couple hours ahead of schedule. A few people
were succumbing to the cold and were staying inside a lot and would
start going home soon.

After warming up and putting warm buddies ( little heat packets) in my
gloves, I went back outside. At 22:48 I began my journey through the
realm of galaxies. Once again having excellent finder charts from Sky Tools, designed
specifically for my scope set-up, helped tremendously. By 23:34 I was
through the dreaded Virgo cluster. M 68 in Hydra was very faint for a
globular, but I logged it at 23:41 just above the horizon in the SE. Time to go in and warm up
again. There was lots of food left from the pot luck to snack on.

I was back out at 00:27 and began picking off some of the high summer
objects that were rising in the NE. By 01:05 I was through to M 56 on my
list, that was 70 objects for me so far. Time to warm up again.
By 02:00 there was only myself and two other suckers for punishment
left. From 02:07 to 02:16 I got M 29, 39 and 80. By 02:30 I was the only

one left, but I had been logging so well that I was determined to stick
it out until daylight and hopefully get 100 objects.
I found myself having to wait for objects to rise, which was a blessing,
as that gave me a chance to warm up. I never got totally warm though and
I felt chilled. Fortunately the wind stopped, but -20 is still very cold
even without the wind. The air was very dry and up until this point I
went without a dew shield, but when the wind stopped I decided to put
one on just to be sure not to fog up.

From 02:56 to 03:22 I got through Vulpecula, Sagitta, Scutum and most of
Ophiuchus as well as part of Scorpius. Time to wait for more to rise.
I went back out at 03:53 to look for Comet 2000 WM1 Linear, which I
bagged exactly where my Sky Tools chart said it would be. It was a small
but obvious fuzzy glow with a bright nucleus. No tail was evident and it
was not nearly as impressive as Ikeya-Zhang.

From 03:57 to 04:18 I got M 16, 17, 18, 24, 25, 23, 21 and 20. At 04:22
I bagged M 62 in Ophiuchus, and then went back down to Sagittarius for
M8 and 22 by 04:29. I was on M 28, but couldn't see it, probably because
of the low angle and it was starting to get light. I logged M 15 in
Pegasus as my last object at 04:40. I could not get M 6 or 7 as well as
all those globulars in the bottom of the teapot. It was also getting too
light to get the Aquarius objects or M 30.

At 04:53 I called it quits at a total of 96 objects. Not quite the
hundred I had hoped for, but I was extremely satisfied. I was now
starting to feel tired and I had to concentrate so as not to leave
anythingbehind as I packed up to head home for some much needed sleep.

One thing I can say is that although it was unbearably cold, I did have
a lot of fun and did nothave to deal with any cloud what so ever. I think that my total of 96
was as good as you can geton March 16 from our observatory. Higher ground would have given us M 74
and 77 and perhaps some of those globulars in the bottom of the teapot,
M6 and M7 and the Aquarius objects.

During the marathon I saw 30 Messiers that I had never seen before,
mostly the Virgo, Coma galaxies. I've now seen all but seven of the Messiers to complete the list.
I wouldn't want to do this again tomorrow or next week, but I'll beready for next year.