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Our First Messier Marathon

Bob Havner

Len Bradley and I have been amateur astronomers for several years. Recently we have been having frequent observing sessions at his home in Gilroy. The sky is fairly dark, very dark if compared to my home in Campbell, and there is a good view of the sky. We have both had very good success at finding faint deep sky objects, Len with his 8" Meade SCT, and I with my 8" Orion DSE.

One day Len contacted me asking what I thought about trying a Messier marathon. Of course I was thrilled. We set the date for April 1, 2000 and made plans for the attempt. For our first try we decided to work as a team. This would offer us a chance to get the maximum number of objects. The two of us got together earlier in the week to make our strategy. Len's backyard was chosen for our site. The list published in Sky & Telescope was used as our guide. Our plan was simple, we divided the list between us and as we found objects we would share views. Knowing that all 109 objects were not possible, due to horizon obstructions, we made up a realistic goal for ourselves of 92. To be truthful would have been happy with somewhere in the 60 to 70 range.

The evening of April 1st arrived. I got to Len's house at 6:30 and immediately set up. "The Sky" astronomy software was used for location and identification of objects. As the sky darkened we trained our scopes on our first targets. At 7:41 Len spotted M103 and the hunt was on. To my surprise we were checking off objects at a fairly fast pace. We had little trouble finding objects and cruised through the "early evening" and "Leo and the Big Dipper" sections. M101 gave me a little trouble and NGC 5866 was used as M102 as suggested by Sky & Telescope magazine.

The Virgo cluster worried me a little. I thought that this area would make or break the night. I started by finding a close pair of galaxies, and identified them as M 84 & 86. After that it was a simple matter of star hopping through the rest of the cluster.

After the Virgo region came my personal favorites M13 & M57. They were the first deep space objects I had ever seen through my telescope. Cygnus was still low in the sky so it was time to take a break. It may not show dedication to the hobby, but we escaped the dark to the garage for a few games of pool. After about an hour we were ready to go the distance.

The night continued with the same success as it started. Cluster after cluster we saw our list getting to its end. M22 was the last that we expected to find, and anything after that was a bonus. We ended up finding six more including M52, which was at the start of the list and obstructed. The list was tallied as the sky was beginning to lighten. We had found 98 Messier objects! Both of us were thrilled and tired. Our gear was packed in the pre dawn morning and as I headed home, a thin, crescent moon was hanging over the foothills a very cool sight after a great night.

Mail to: Bob Havner
Copyright © 2000 San Jose Astronomical Association
Last updated: July 19, 2007

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