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The Messier Marathon at Henry Coe State Park

Vivek Mohan


“When it was time to leave, my younger brother and I asked for the traditional ‘five more minutes’ ...$#8221;


Observers getting ready for the Messier Marathon at Henry Coe State Park. Photo by Paul Kohlmiller.


It began, like almost all activities, with a groan. "Come on, it's a Saturday night, do we have to go to the Messier Marathon?" "Let's watch a movie instead." It ended, also, with a groan, but on a different note — "Are we leaving already?" "Can't we stay a little longer?" All in all, the Messier Marathon at Henry Coe State Park was a fun experience.

We loaded our 6" dob (on loan from SJAA) and drove over to our friend's house. Mr. Kumar brought his 6" equatorial and his 10 year old son, and we were set to go. We ascended the mountain on a long and winding road. Twelve miles of twisting mountain road without guardrails was enough to make anyone wonder if this was going to be worth the while. When we reached the small parking lot at the peak in fading daylight, we drove past all kinds of amazing scopes ranging from 4" to 20" behemoths. Pulling into one of the few empty parking spots, we quickly unpacked our two small scopes. However, we soon realized that the viewfinder on our dob was broken, and no amount of tweaking, prodding, or adjusting it could fix the problem.

Using the other scope, we quickly located the easiest of the Messier objects — M42 and M43, otherwise known as Orion's Nebula and de Mairan's Nebula (located slightly below Orion's belt.) Another easy-to-locate object, M36, in Auriga, was next. The other two Messier objects in Auriga, M37 and M38, were easy to find from there.

However, locating objects without a viewfinder was proving to be a difficult exercise. M81 was the next object on the list, and it was more difficult to locate than it should have been. We decided to take a walk around and look at the other telescopes there. Some of the very large scopes, a 20" scope and 18" scope, were next to us. We kept admiring the scopes themselves, which involved precision work by their owners who built them. The gentlemen who had built these incredible scopes were very friendly and patient with us as they showed us several Messier objects. Using the 18" which was partially computer controlled, we focused on M81 and 82, Bode's Galaxy and the Cigar Galaxy. We took a look and were amazed. We saw M81 as a huge spiral, with a small elongated shape to the left — M82. Looking through that telescope was amazing — almost as if one was in an observatory.

One of the gentlemen with the large scopes prompted us to bring the defective dob over and volunteered to locate M81 for us without the viewfinder. I brought the scope to him and he easily pointed it towards M81. Sure enough, it was just as amazing through our humble six-inch dob. Then we used the 18" scope to see an amazing combination — Saturn and M1, the Crab Nebula, in a single field of view in the 18" scope, as they happened to be very close together in the sky. What a contrast!

We moved to another telescope, this one a smaller ten-inch, and helped look for clusters. In Leo, we found the elusive (at least for us) galaxies of M95 and M96. Back at our base camp, we learned to use our other telescope, one on an equatorial mount with tracking. With a fair dose of luck and help, we located M45 in Taurus. By the time we had done all this, it was getting quite late and we were feeling somewhat cold.

When it was time to leave, my younger brother Vijay and I asked for the traditional "five more minutes," hoping to get my parents hooked for another half hour or so. However, we had to leave, as both of our families had commitments the next morning.

— Vivek Mohan (I am 15 years old, my brother Vijay is 10).

[Editors note: Vivek's first article, The 6" dob, was published in the March 2001 Ephemeris]


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