The Hunt for "Fuzzies"

Jan Wisniewski, Kingston Centre

(also see my 2003 Messier Marathon Report)

I had to wait to year before being able to repeat Messier Marathon again (spring of 2001 was completely clouded over here in Eastern Ontario).

This year it did not look too promising either. Together with Doug Angle and Fred Barret, we were planing overnight observing. Our first choice was Saturday, March 16 (two days after New Moon). And while it was cloudy (or terribly windy or both) for almost a month, that Saturday morning turned out sunny and calm. The weather stayed perfect whole day and around sunset both me and Doug made it to Fred's place near Maberly, Ontario. Still, there was no sign of clouds or fog...

After a short deliberation we picked up observing spot on a hill above large beaver pond. Southern and Eastern horizons were perfectly low. There were trees (no leaves on them here in Ontario, yet) to the West. So early in the season, we thought they would no interfere with objects above Western horizon. Well, as you will see, it was not exactly so...

While it was slowly getting darker, we set up our scopes. Fred was using his 8 inch f10 SCT, Dough brought 4 inch f4 refractor and I lugged my trusty 6 inch f4 Dobby. It was getting chilly as well but it was still perfectly clear.

As Venus sunk below horizon, it was dark enough to located starfield of the first target - (in)famous M74. Young Moon (with beautiful Earthshine) guided me there but I was for a real surprize when I have reached hPiscis at 7:05 pm - comet Ikeya-Zhang was plainly visible in 8x50 binoculars next to that star! I kind of knew that visitor was hanging somewhere around Western horizon but never paid too much attention as it was cloudy all the time anyway... It looked like a good omen, for sure! 6 inch Dobsonian showed not only a head but a tail over 1 long. Once sky got a bit darker, that tail seemed to go almost all the way across 2 field of view.

Comet Ikeya-Zhang.

Mosaic of three Cookbook 245 / 8 inch f3.0 SCT images taken on March 27, 2002.


Eventually it got dark enough to try the hunt for M74 in Pisces. After a bit of confusion, I was able to find right area near hPiscis but it took me many minutes of staring (with averted vision) to detect its faint round glow in my telescope at 48x (at 24x the sky background was too bright) at 7:47 pm. A few minutes later, while still relatively high in the sky, it started to disappear behind above mentioned trees. With that accomplished, I was on to the good start of this Marathon.

The nigh proved to be clear until sunrise, when clouds finally rolled-in from the south. It was really damp and bitterly cold and we had to fight with iced crystals growing on optics and elsewhere (see "Lessons Learned" part at the bottom of this page).

After 9 pm. we got company... Wolves started to howl on the other side of a large beaver pond (at least we felt that way) but Molly (Fred's Collie) was not brave enough to pick it up (probably she agreed with our estimate of their location).

It was truly a memorable night of observing.

The table below lists detail of my observations followed by a short summary:

Target # Messier Object Object Type Constellation Time Detected 10x50 binocs 6" f4 Dobby (24x and 48x) Comments
1 M74 galaxy Pisces 19:47 EST - + barely detectable at 48x
2 M77 galaxy Cetus 19:57 - + easy at 24x
3 M79 globular Lepus 20:04 + + nice view at 48x
4 M33 galaxy Triangulum 20:08 + + clearly visible in binoculars
5 M31 galaxy Andromeda 20:11 + + all visible in the same field of view at 24x,

binoculars showed M31 and M32 nicely! M110 suspected in binoculars but treetops where interfering with a view

6 M32 galaxy - +
7 M110 galaxy ? +
8 M52 open cluster Cassiopeia 20:23 + + clear in binoculars, beautiful at 48x with Dobby
9 M103 open cluster Cassiopeia 20:28 + + nice triangular cluster at 48x
10 M76 planetary Perseus 20:37 - + two-lobbed at 48x
11 M34 open cluster Perseus 20:43 + + nice and large in binoculars
12 M45 open cluster Taurus 20:45 + + naked-eye target, of course!
13 M93 open cluster Puppis 20:57 + + nice triangular cluster at 48x
14 M46 open cluster Puppis 21:00 + + same field of view at 24x,

NGC2438 visible in M46 at 48x

15 M47 open cluster + +
16 M41 open cluster Canis Major 21:07 + + easy to find down from Sirius
17 M50 open cluster Monoceros 21:11 + + easy to find up from Sirius
18 M48 open cluster Hydra 21:16 + + found with binoculars, nice loose cluster at 24x
19 M42 nebula Orion 21:18 + + bat-like through 6 inch Dobby
20 M43 nebula + +
21 M78 nebula Orion 21:21 + + first found at 24x, then spotted in binoculars
22 M1 nebula Taurus 20:24 - + found at 24x
23 M38 open cluster Auriga 20:31 + + found by scan with binoculars.

all very nice at 24x - M37 in particular!

24 M36 open cluster + +
25 M37 open cluster + +
26 M35 open cluster Gemini 21:44 + + nice large cluster at 24x
27 M44 open cluster Cancer 21:45 + + found with binocs
28 M67 open cluster Cancer 21:45 + + found with binocs
29 M105 galaxy Leo 22:01 + + found all three in the same field of view at 24x,

M95 toughest in binoculars

30 M96 galaxy + +
31 M95 galaxy + +
32 M65 galaxy Leo 22:10 + + found with binoculars,

nice and bright at 24x, NGC3628 in the same field of view!

33 M66 galaxy + +
34 M60 galaxy Virgo 22:19 + + all found in binoculars,

confirmed at 24x

35 M59 galaxy + +
36 M58 galaxy + +
37 M89 galaxy Virgo 23:28 n/a + found at 24x, binoculars not attempted
38 M90 galaxy n/a +
39 M87 galaxy Virgo 23:34 n/a + found at 24x, binoculars not attempted
40 M86 galaxy n/a +
41 M84 galaxy n/a +
42 M99 galaxy Coma 23:40 n/a + found at 24x, binoculars not attempted
43 M98 galaxy n/a +
44 M100 galaxy Coma 23:43 n/a + found at 24x, binoculars not attempted
45 M88 galaxy Coma 23:29 n/a + found at 24x, binoculars not attempted
46 M91 galaxy n/a +
47 M85 galaxy Coma 23:42 n/a + found at 24x, binoculars not attempted
48 M61 galaxy Virgo 23:46 - + found at 24x
49 M49 galaxy Virgo 23:49 + + found at 24x, visible in binoculars
50 M104 galaxy Virgo 23:56 + + found at 24x (great at 96x), visible in binoculars
51 M68 globular Hydra 24:00 - + found at 24x
52 M83 galaxy Hydra 0:03 + + found with binocs, large glow at 24x
53 M81 galaxy Ursa Major 0:17 + + same field of view at 24x
54 M82 galaxy + +
55 M97 planetary Ursa Major 0:20 - + same field at 24x, M97 easier than M108
56 M108 galaxy - +
57 M109 galaxy Ursa Major 0:23 - + detected at 24x, confirmed at 48x
58 M40 double star Ursa Major 0:25 - + found at 24x
59 M101 galaxy Ursa Major 0:28 + + clearly visible at 24x, trace of spiral structure at 48x ! My best view ever of this target !
60 M51 galaxy Canes Venatici 0:40 + + spiral structure noticable at 24x
61 M63 galaxy Canes Venatici 0:43 + + found at 24x
62 M94 galaxy Canes Venatici 0:45 + + found at 24x
63 M106 galaxy Canes Venatici 0:59 + + found at 24x
64 M53 globular Coma 1:06 + + NGC5053 detectable in the same field of view at 24x
65 M64 galaxy Coma 1:16 + + found at 24x
66 M3 globular Canes Venatici 1:18 + + found in binocs, large and beautiful object at 24x
67 M102 galaxy Draco 1:35 - + NGC5907 was found first at 24x, then M102 was located nearby (very difficult area to star-hop)
68 M13 globular Hercules 1:37 + + found in binocs, a beauty at 24x!
69 M92 globular Hercules 1:38 + + found at 24x
70 M5 globular Serpans Caput 1:39 + + nice at 24x
71 M57 planetary Lyra 1:55 + + found at 24x as it just cleared tree branches!
72 M4 globular Scorpius 1:57 + + found at 24x
73 M80 globular Scorpius 2:00 + + found at 24x
74 M14 globular Ophiuchus 2:10 + + bright and large at 24x
75 M12 globular Ophiuchus 2:15 + + both bright and large at 24x
76 M10 globular + +
77 M107 globular Ophiuchus 2:17 + + faint at 24x
78 M9 globular Ophiuchus 2:20 + + found at 24x
79 M19 globular Ophiuchus 2:22 + + found at 24x
80 M62 globular Ophiuchus 2:45 + + found at 24x
81 M56 globular Lyra 2:47 + + found at 24x
82 M39 open cluster Cygnus 2:57 + + found with binoculars
83 M29 open cluster Cygnus 2:59 + + found at 24x
84 M71 globular Sagitta 3:00 + + faint in binoculars
85 M27 planetary Vulpecula 3:03 + + bright through 6" Dobby at 24x
86 M11 open cluster Scutum 3:07 + + easy to find in binocs
87 M26 open cluster Scutum 3:25 + + found at 24x
88 M16 open cluster + nebula Serpens Cauda 3:25 + + nebulosity visible at 24x
89 M17 nebula Sagittarius 3:27 + + all found in binoculars
90 M18 open cluster + +
91 M24 star cloud + +
92 M25 open cluster + +
93 M8 nebula Sagittarius 3:35 + + found with binoculars
94 M20 nebula + +
95 M21 open cluster + +
96 M23 open cluster Sagittarius 3:38 + + beautiful in binoculars
97 M22 globular Sagittarius 3:42 + + M22 spectacular at 24x
98 M28 globular + +
99 M6 open cluster Scorpius 3:43 + not used very nice
100 M7 open cluster Scorpius 3:44 + not used large, seen rising above treeline
101 M15 globular Pegasus 3:54 + + nice in binoculars
102 M2 globular Aquarius 4:29 + + barely detectable in binocs, sky is getting bright !
103 M69 globular Sagittarius 4:37 - + tough at 24x, got lost among stars for a few minutes !
104 M70 globular Sagittarius 4:42 - + tough at 24x
105 M54 globular Sagittarius 4:46 - + tough at 24x
106 M75 globular Sagittarius 4:55 - + tought I will miss that one but eventually spotted it at 24x, really difficult field to star-hp - especially with the brightening sky (not enough stars visible anymore) !
107 M72 globular Aquarius lost to brightening morning sky
108 M73 asterism Aquarius lost to brightening morning sky
109 M55 globular Sagittarius lost to brightening morning sky
110 M30 globular Capricornus included out if optimism - this object is impossible to see from Canada untill lot later in April

Summary of my March 16-17, 2002 Messier Marathon results:


number of objects:


objects seen with the 6 inch Dobsonian:


objects lost to twilights:


M55, M72, M73, M30

objects seen in 10x50 binoculars


binoculars were not used in parts of Virgo Cluster and in the early morning sky

Lessons learned

"Running" Messier Marathon with others allowed me to compare advantages and problems of using different scopes. Between Fred, Doug and myself we used:



  • 8 inch f10 SCT on a fork equatorial mount
  1. DEW!!! To fight it you need power which is a problem at remote sites (and those are the only places best suited for Marathon)
  2. Fork mount makes finding objects along horizon quite akward
  3. Because of the small field of view, original finder was of little help for fainter objects.
  • 8 inch f5 Dobsonian with an open truss tube
  1. We hardly used that one but dew again was a problem. Primary mirror eventually managed to frost over completely! Using a shroud would prevent that.
  • 6 inch f4 solid tube Dobsonian
  1. 6 inch proved to be a minimum aperture to clearly see fainter of the Messiers on that particular night (M74 was really difficult, though !)
  2. Solid tube protected optics from frosty dew - only secondary sported some ice crystals on optical surface by early morning.
  3. Eyepieces fogged over rapidly, though. I had to keep changing them every few minutes - while one was in the scope, the second eyepiece was warming up inside my pocket (having two identical eyepieces would be nice :-) Replacing metal focuser with plastic one (yes, that's what I mean) would definitively slow down heat (cold ?) transfer.
  4. Because of the large field of view of this rich field telescope, red dot finder was completely adequate. Each time the target was in the field of view at low power (about 2 at 24x).
  5. Alt-az mount made it easy to hunt objects along horizon.
  • 4 inch f4 refractor on alt-azimuth mount
  1. Thick objective lens started to dew over, eventually (it was a really humid and cold night).
  2. 4 inches were a bit short on aperture for some objects.
  3. Finding targets was easy by sighting along the tube (no finder). At lowest magnification the field of view was about 4 !
  • 10 x 50 binoculars
  1. When the name of the game is to find so many objects in a relatively short time, nothing beats binoculars. Many of the clusters as well as quite a few galaxies and nebulae were visible in that instrument.

March 16 seems to be a bit early to catch morning targets - M55, M72 and M73 escaped due to rapidly brightening sky. On the other hand there was plenty of room to spare with evening objects - even M74 was still high after dusk. March 25 may be the better date as morning objects should rise about 40 min. earlier while M74 and M77 should still be visible if Western horizon is low! I will wait for new Moon around that day in years to come (and pray for weather to cooperate ;-)

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Jan Wisniewski