Messier Marathon Tips

Here we will give some tips which will hopefully help to run an even more successful Messier Marathon.

  1. Be aware that a Messier Marathon is a major observational effort, and will much more likely be a success if it is well prepared. So take enough time for preparation.
  2. Select a good site with free horizon especially to the west and to the southeast. The success in this thread may give or take you several Messier objects both in the evening (west) and morning (southeast).
  3. If ever possible, get as much experience as you can in advance in locating in particular the most critical objects: M74 and M77 in the evening and M30 as well as M55, M75, M72, and M73 in the morning. Also, try to get familiar with your equipment, the night sky, and as many Messier objects as possible in advance - this will probably increase your final score in the Marathon significantly.
  4. The night will be long, and unless you are in a very preferred location, it will be cold. Get equipped with appropriate warm dressing and warm beverages (coffee will be nice, also something to eat - again, this night will be looong !) A nearby warm room may be a really good thing, as it will be likely that you can take a break somewhen after midnight, when you will have to wait that the remaining objects will rise in the east. For the same reason, an alarm clock might be of value in case you would like to be reminded, or waked up, when it is time to go out again for the rest.
  5. Get prepared with a red light, some good charts, a check list, and some observing aids - I'd recommend Astro Cards set 1 plus Machholz' Messier Marathon Observers Guide, and/or one of the other observing aids listed in the Messier Goodie List. If you are not exactly familiar with the night sky, also have a planisphere handy and perhaps one of the constellation guides with maps - the Audubon Society's Field Guide to the Night Sky, or Peterson's Field Guide to the Stars and Planets are handy choices here. You may like to print out our Messier Marathon Observer's Form to record your observations. Don't forget to have a sufficiently good watch or clock handy for recording times when you have seen the objects.

    In any case, the present author would recommend to have an additional pair of binoculars handy - 10x50 is a good choice. This may be of value for locating some objects which may be difficult because of either a long optics of your main instrument (e.g., for M33), help to find objects faster if your finder is not exactly superb, or enable you to look from another place if just this one tree or house is in way to see this or that object.

  6. Get your equipment up and checked timely enough so that you are ready for observing when the brightest stars just get visible. Be sure that you have plenty of time to get everything prepared - you really won't like it to miss some objects in the evening just because of bad timing, won't you ? Moreover, there may be planets, comets, or other objects observable low in the west shortly after sunset, and if you like you can combine the Messier Marathon with a Solar System Marathon - these might just be good targets before it is dark enough for deep sky objects.
  7. The most critical objects in the evening are M74 and M77 - you have only a short time chance to glimpse them, so try them as quick as possible. If you lose one of them don't try too long, as the other might also get lost, and there are others, like M33, which are also urgent.

    For M74, look for 2nd mag Hamal (Alpha Arietis), which you should locate as early as possible, below Andromeda (and Triangulum which you will probably only see later). From here to the southwest, locate mag 2.64 Sharatan (Beta Arietis) and its 4th mag binary neighbor Mesarthim (Gamma Arietis), and go further in the same direction to mag 3.63 Eta Piscium. From this star, M74 is located 0.5 deg North and 1.3 deg East, near the stars 103 and 105 Piscium. Note: With magnitude 9.4, this galaxy is quite faint, and one of the more difficult galaxies in Messier's catalog. This is the reason why Machholz and some others recommend to look for easier M77 first.

    M77 can be found 0.7 degrees southeast of 4th-mag Delta Ceti, which may be located from Aldebaran going via the Hyades and a chain of moderately bright stars in Taurus along the line over 2.5-mag Menkar (Alpha Ceti). This galaxy, at magnitude 8.9, and with a conspicuous central region is much easier to observe than M74.

  8. Having located, or eventually failed to locate, these two galaxies, you are still adviced to hurry, on to M33, which is considerably easier to locate in Triangulum. Then comes M31 with M32 and M110, which should be easy, compared to the previously observed objects. Still, time is short for observing M52, M103, M76, M34, M45 and M79. When you are there, you have much more time and won't probably lose any more evening object.
  9. Take care not to overlook an object; carefully follow your checklist. Once set, the object is lost for the night. With some exceptions: The objects M52, M103, M31, M32, M110 and M76 may give you a second chance in the morning if you miss them in the evening. If you miss any, note this carefully in order to try this second time !
  10. You will eventually come to a point when you have observed all Messier objects which are currently observable for you, and have to wait that the morning objects rise; it is sometimes recommended to take this after the Virgo Cluster, M83, M68 and M102 (NGC 5866). At this point, you will have observed all galaxies in Messier's catalog (unless you missed one which you can get in the morning). Depending on experience and your observing practice, this will occur somewhen around or after midnight. Now you can take a break from the marathon, observe something else, return to certain interesting objects for a more detailed study, or take some warm beverage (the night, to now, was cool in every respect, wasn't it). You can even sleep or do something else. Only take care to return timely so that you have at least 2-3 hours for the remaining objects before morning twilight, so return latest around 3 am.

    If you have decided to observe more and other deep sky objects, here is a list of objects from which you could select (also available with data). These objects were selected because most of them should be observable even with smaller Messier Marathon equipment, are situated in the neighborhood of Messier objects, or are of particular interest due to some reason.

  11. On tour again, as before, carefully follow your checklist not to overlook an object ! You should have enough time for completing most of the list, and will finally have to wait for the last objects to rise. One after the other will come up, and then the time will come when you are waiting for the last - M30, or if you are too much north, or it is too early in March, M72, M73, or M2. This will be a gamble with patience - and it may happen that you won't see it - but if it should finally show up - what a night !
  12. At this point, regardless if you lost some, I think you will agree that this was a worthy observing endeavor. Now, if you want, you can contribute your results to our Messier Marathon Results List; simply send me a note!

Messier Marathon Home

Hartmut Frommert
Christine Kronberg

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