Messier Marathon 2003

Jan Wisniewski, RASC - Kingston Centre

(also see my 2000 & 2002 Messier Marathon)

It seems like Messier Marathon starts to be my annual quest. This year me, Fred and Doug as well as a few other members of Kingston Center planned to undertake that challenge on March 29/30 from Fred's "Dark Sky Reserve" near Maberly. Moon would be just a bit shy of New and conveniently (as none of us is retiered or hit a 6/49 jackpot, yet) it was Saturday night as well. Of course I do not have to state the odds of such a night being clear... So, just in case I arranged for a 4-day long weekend to improve my chances.

While, after lo-o-ong winter, SE Ontario enjoyed a week of warm weather, a new cold front was crawling back and skied got shrouded by clouds. So "the perfect night" was a bust. However (should I say "of course") it started to clear on Sunday, though it was still hazy and extremely windy. I have tried to get M74 and M77 from my driveway but failed despited completely flat W horizon. Then, on Monday, Clear Sky Clock predicted almost unbelivable - it could be clear for the whole night (as well as New Moon on April 1). Contrary to such optimistic forecast for Kingston, in Harrowsmith big clouds started to appear in the afternoon with occasional snow... It was clear along N horizon and Sky Clock suggested very good conditions around Maberly. So, on the short notice I have "warned" Fred, "tossed" needed equipment into my stationwagon and hit the road...

I got to Fred's "Dark Sky Reserve" just past sunset - Fred just managed to get back from work as well. We hauled scopes to the side of a hill used a year ago. Fred's 8 inch SCT was a snap to get there. On the other hand getting my 20 inch (almost 200 lbs) through a ditch and up the steep slope was a lot more serious... By the time I managed to lug the rest of my stuff it was almost completely dark.

This year I decided to try Messier Marathon with 20 inch f4. It was equipped with Paracorr coma corrector and 31mm Nagler type 5 giving FOV just over 1 across at 75x ! This "monster" rich-field scope was pointed with a help of a simple red-dot finder (from K-mart "Astronomy Department") and giant 6 inch f4 finder (this was my main Messier Marathon scope in 2000 and 2002, giving 2 FOV @ 24x :-).

Because of the late time (March 31) M74 and M77 was already out of reach. Shrubs on the side of the hills claimed M33 and M110 as well, though I did managed to spy M31 and M33 in between the branches. M33 and M110 could be observed in the morning again so that did not seem like a huge loss at that time...

I found the first object, M79, at 19:36 EST (March 31, 2003). I hunted them one by one until reaching the total of 97 Messier objects with M15 detected through an increasing haze at 3:42 EST (April 1, 2003). Individual objects and time of their detection are listed below:

Target # Messier Object Object Type Constellation Time Detected (EST) Comments
1 M79 globular Lepus 19:36  
2 M31 galaxy Andromeda 19:41 seen through shrubs, M110 not visible
3 M32 galaxy
4 M52 open cluster Cassiopeia 19:46  
5 M103 open cluster Cassiopeia 19:49  
6 M76 planetary Perseus 19:51  
7 M34 open cluster Perseus 20:00  
8 M45 open cluster Taurus 20:08 Merope Nebula visible as well
9 M93 open cluster Puppis 20:12  
10 M46 open cluster Puppis 20:45 NGC2438 visible in M46
11 M47 open cluster
12 M41 open cluster Canis Major 20:50  
13 M50 open cluster Monoceros 20:53 Seagull Nebula detectable nearby
14 M42 nebula Orion 20:55 Quite intense Aurora developed over N horizon !
15 M43 nebula
16 M78 nebula Orion 20:57  
17 M48 open cluster Hydra 20:59  
18 M1 nebula Taurus 21:01 Saturn nearby - fits in the same field FOV of 31mm Nagler!
19 M38 open cluster Auriga 21:30  
20 M36 open cluster
21 M37 open cluster
22 M35 open cluster Gemini 21:34 I have spied IC443 nearby as well as Medusa Nebula (both with OIII filter)
23 M44 open cluster Cancer 21:45 This one was accompanied by Jupiter ! Took a while to recover my night vision afterwards...
24 M67 open cluster Cancer 21:47  
25 M105 galaxy Leo 22:10 So many galaxies around - not just NGC3384 and NGC3389.
26 M96 galaxy
27 M95 galaxy
28 M65 galaxy Leo 22:15 Plus NGC3628 in the same field of view - lots of detail even at a relatively low power (75x) !
28 M66 galaxy
29 M60 galaxy Virgo 22:19 M60's companion (NGC4647) clearly visible
30 M59 galaxy
31 M58 galaxy
32 M89 galaxy Virgo 22:21  
33 M90 galaxy
34 M88 galaxy Coma 22:21  
35 M91 galaxy
36 M87 galaxy Virgo 22:26 plus all the members of the Markarian's Chain
37 M86 galaxy
38 M84 galaxy
40 M99 galaxy Coma 22:28  
41 M98 galaxy
42 M100 galaxy
43 M85 galaxy Coma 22:31  
44 M49 galaxy Virgo 22:35  
45 M61 galaxy Virgo 22:38  
46 M104 galaxy Virgo 22:41  
47 M68 globular Hydra 22:47  
48 M83 galaxy Hydra 10:50  
49 M81 galaxy Ursa Major 23:52 same field of view in 31mm Nagler
50 M82 galaxy
51 M97 planetary Ursa Major 23:54 same field of view in 31mm Nagler ! Owl's eyes visible, too.
52 M108 galaxy
53 M109 galaxy Ursa Major 23:58  
54 M40 double star Ursa Major 0:03  
55 M101 galaxy Ursa Major 0:08 spiral arms easy to see
56 M51 galaxy Canes Venatici 0:10 Spectacular, bright spiral. Structure visible in disrupted companion as well.
57 M63 galaxy Canes Venatici 0:12  
58 M94 galaxy Canes Venatici 0:13 bright inner region contrasts with faint outer parts
59 M106 galaxy Canes Venatici 0:16 found at 24x
60 M53 globular Coma 0:23 NGC5053 visible in the same FOV of 31mm Nagler
61 M64 galaxy Coma 0:48 Black eye was very distinct through 20 inch scope ! I visited NGC4565 as well - what a treat...
62 M3 globular Canes Venatici 0:50 spectacular view
63 M102 galaxy Draco 1:00 NGC5907 and NGC5879 clearly visible as well
64 M13 globular Hercules 1:01 plus NGC6207 in the same FOV of 31mm Nagler
65 M92 globular Hercules 1:02  
66 M5 globular Serpans Caput 1:03  
67 M57 planetary Lyra 1:04 it had bluish color through 20 inch with some red as well !
68 M4 globular Scorpius 1:08  
69 M80 globular Scorpius 1:09  
70 M12 globular Ophiuchus 1:11  
71 M10 globular Ophiuchus 1:12  
72 M14 globular Ophiuchus 1:15  
73 M107 globular Ophiuchus 1:20  
74 M9 globular Ophiuchus 1:42  
75 M19 globular Ophiuchus 1:45  
76 M62 globular Ophiuchus 1:48  
77 M56 globular Lyra 1:54  
78 M39 open cluster Cygnus 2:07  
79 M11 open cluster Scutum 2:08  
80 M26 open cluster Scutum 2:10  
81 M16 open cluster + nebula Serpens Cauda 2:53  
82 M17 nebula Sagittarius
83 M18 open cluster Sagittarius 2:55  
84 M24 star cloud Sagittarius 2:58  
85 M25 open cluster
86 M8 nebula Sagittarius 3:00  
87 M20 nebula
88 M21 open cluster
89 M23 open cluster Sagittarius 3:20  
90 M29 open cluster Cygnus 3:22  
91 M71 globular Sagitta 3:25  
92 M27 planetary Vulpecula 3:26  
93 M22 globular Sagittarius 3:35  
94 M28 globular
95 M6 open cluster Scorpius 3:37  
96 M7 open cluster
97 M15 globular Pegasus 3:42 barely visible through the increasing haze

By 4am both me and Fred had enough. Haze above horizon and clouds precluded any chance of seeing more objects. On the bright side though, getting 20 inch Dob down the slope was a lot easier !

Future plans

March 16 seemed to be a bit early last year. Obviously March 31, again - see Messier Marathon 2000, is too late. March 23 may be then the best time to observe both evening and morning Messiers. Hopefuly next year it will be clear during New Moon on March 20, 2004 (Saturday). Only in 2009 and 2012 Moon would present again no more than thin crescent around March 23:

Year New Moon Date of my Messier Marathon
2000 April 4 March 31
2001 March 24 bad weather
2002 March 13 March 16
2003 April 1 March 31
2004 March 20 ***
2005 March 10  
2006 March 29  
2007 March 18  
2008 April 5  
2009 March 26 ***
2010 March 15  
2011 April 3  
2012 March 22 ***

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Jan Wisniewski