Here a few tips from the Peoria Astronomical Society for those who are
participating in the Mount Tamalpias SFAA Messier Marathon:
1. BE PREPARED: The Boy's Scout motto is a good one for the marathon
that is twelve hours long. Have a good plan of attack.
Included at the end of this
article is one suggested order to follow. Get the star charts you are
going to use and
Do not forget to bring the extras you will need such as a red
flashlight, extra batteries for your Telrad or other battery-operated
equipment, and a
dew system. You will have dew on Mt. Tam as we did during our
last SUP date.
2. GET THERE EARLY. Get to the site as early as you can, at least by
If you are set up by then you can get a few of the brighter
objects out of the way fast, even if the are
actually listed lower on the list.
3. HAVE A PLAN ON THE TOUGH EARLY OBJECTS. You will not have much time
first signs of darkness, around 7 pm., and the time several of the
first tough objects
on your list will set in the west. You must be prepared for them. M74
and M77 will be
particularly hard to locate.
M74, a faint galaxy in Pisces, will undoubtedly be the toughest to find
It has a low surface brightness. You will need to find a target nearby
star and be able to
find it fairly quickly. M77, a galaxy in Cetus, is a little
easier and you can locate
it first because it is brighter.
4. VIEW AS MANY AS YOU CAN AS EARLY AS YOU CAN. Once you completed the
first ten, you
can slower your pace a little. However, since you have the most energy
early, you need
to move across the sky at a fairly good pace. You may need the extra
time on the
dreaded Virgo Cluster. You should be able to get through the first 48
by 10:30 or 11
pm. By then the Virgo Cluster will be in a good position in the sky to
5. TAKE A BREAK BEFORE THE VIRGO CLUSTER. Now is a good time to take a
Have some coffee. Sit in your car. Rest your feet. Have a snack. After
15 minutes or half an
hour, you will be ready to go again.
6. PREPARE FOR VIRGO CLUSTER. You will need a good plan to wind your
way through the
Virgo Cluster, comprised of 14 galaxies in Virgo and Coma Berenices. I
follow the path suggested in the chart on pages 42 and 43 of the May
1994 issue of Sky
& Telescope. It starts in the eastern edge at Epsilon Virginis and
goes toward the
west rather than following the west to east, right ascension order from
the list below
that works well with most of the other objects. If you have Uranometria
2000, copy the
charts on pages 192 and 193 and highlight the path suggested in the
That night if you get halfway through and get lost, don't panic. Start
over again and the
second time you will be able to quickly get back to the last galaxy you
7. VIEW ALL THE OBJECTS DOWN TO THE EASTERN HORIZON: Continue to view
as many objects as you can now as you cross the sky at a leisurely pace
to the eastern horizon. I
If you have been successful so far, by about 1:30 am you should have
completed 90 of the 110
objects. No more will be high enough above the eastern horizon to view
8. TAKE A LONG BREAK. At this time there is a natural break in the
Rather than waiting outside for a few objects to rise, you might as
well rest for an
hour-and-a half or two while you wait for a larger number to rise
9. GO AT A LEISURELY PACE DOWN THE STRETCH: You will have a couple of
hours to locate the next fifteen objects, so take extra time to view
Enjoy the beauty of the Lagoon and Swan Nebulae. You’re almost
10. HAVE A PLAN FOR THE LAST TOUGH OBJECTS: Just as you had to hurry
at the beginning to catch the early objects before they set, you will
have to hurry
to catch the last few objects when they rise shortly before dawn.
M72, a faint globular cluster, and M73, a faint four-star asterism,
are both in late-rising Aquarius and will be difficult to find.
Have your route carefully marked on your chart. I suggest
Don's Messier Marathon
Observer's Guide, or Harvard Pennington's Messier Marathon Field Guide.
11. PRACTICE AHEAD OF THE TIME: If you have the time and the weather
might want to try a dry run on the tough twilight objects and the Virgo
Practice might make the difference on whether or not you view all those
12. HAVE FUN: Last and most important, have fun. You don’t have
to view them all.
The competition is friendly. Messier Marathons, while a challenge, are
designed to improve
your viewing skills rather than being an end in themselves. Finally, if
you do come
after sunset, don’t forget to turn on your parking lights and
turn off your headlights
when you drive near Rock Springs parking areal.
Excerpts taken from the Peoria Astronomical Society. Ken