Messier Marathon

Gotta Catch 'Em All!

Preamble

Once every year at the vernal equinox, all 110 of Messier's deep sky objects are visible during the course of one entire night. In the northern hemisphere, the date usually falls in late March. This is a grueling test of an astronomer's knowledge of his telescope and the sky. Your going to need a 6 inch or larger telescope and some sky charts to find your way around. To prepare:

  • Be well rested!!!
  • Ensure your equipment is in proper tune (collimate if required)
  • Pick a dark sky site away from light pollution
  • Pick a site with good views of east/west horizon (little/no trees)
  • Dress warmly, and bring some snacks
  • Have extra batteries for red flashlights, laptops, dew removers, etc
  • A battery powered alarm clock or other device to wake you up after nap time is over

Prepare to arrive at your observation site at least an hour before sunset (or even earlier if your telescope requires a long setup and cool down period). Get your charts and your observing area laid out prior to dusk. Then, get ready to rumble!

Viewing Order

This viewing order is based on Don Machholz's book The Messier Marathon Observer's Guide. The hardest part of the Marathon is the beginning and the end. M77 and M74 are dim and will be tough to locate at dusk. Do the first 10 objects as quickly as you can. After that, you can pace yourself through to object 48 (M3). At this point, it should be around 10:45PM. You should take a 30 minute break for a snack and perhaps a trip to the bushes. Resuming at 11:15, you can jump into the Virgo Cluster (be careful! The next 14 objects are all in the same area, and there's a number of NGC objects that could confuse you. Use your finder charts, and ensure the stars surrounding your objects are correct!) and go until object 90 (M16). At this point, it should be around 1:30AM. The remaining 20 objects should just be starting to rise, so you can take a 90 minute nap if you wish (USE THAT ALARM CLOCK!). Be ready to go at 3:00AM and bag the remaining objects. Again, the last few are going to be the toughest, as dawn approaches. Do your best and have fun!

My best advice is to PREPARE! Do a dry run of the first objects a week or two in advance. Also, ensure you know the Virgo Cluster area very well. Finally, if you're seriously dedicated, do a dry run of the morning objects as well a week prior. With planning and patience, you can join an elite group of amateurs that have completed Messier's lifetime* of work in just one night!

* - minus, of course, all the comets he found!