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First Attempt at the Messier Marathon

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#1 Sarkikos

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Posted 19 March 2013 - 09:26 AM

Recently I made my first attempt ever at the Messier Marathon. This was on March 9th at my yellow-zone dark site. The transparency and seeing were both decent. I do not have goto or DSCs. My understanding is that technically the observer is not supposed to use goto for the MM, but DSCs are allowed. I used SkySafari Pro on an Android tablet, a 15x70 optical finder, and a Telrad. The telescope was a 10" f/4.8 Dob. I kept my Baader Hyperion 8-24mm Zoom in the focuser for the entire Marathon.

The early evening objects were suprisingly easy using Sky Safari Pro and the 70mm finder. I star hopped to the locations of M77 and M74. For both of them, I had to alternate between averted and direct vision until I verified their prescence in the twilight. The Baader Zoom showed its worth in allowing me to dial in the optimal perceived contrast. This made it much easier to tease these objects out of the evening sky glow. I am constantly perplexed that more observers don't use a Zoom for deep sky.

I was surprised that M33 was more difficult than either M77 or M74. Of course, it is much larger and has comparatively low surface brightness. Sky Safari Pro was helpful in showing the galaxy's extent and precise location so that I knew exactly where to look.

I did not have any problems finding any of the other Messiers this night. But unfortunately I could not stay the entire night to finish up the list. I had responsibilities with my family for Sunday. I would have liked to stay the whole night and sleep a little in my crossover before I left for home. It seems that is what it takes to finish the entire Messier Marathon. Maybe I'll have a chance to do that after I retire. :shrug:

But I did stay until about 3AM and was able to see all the Messiers visible from my site up to that time. This amounted to 81 objects. It was easier than I thought it would be. The combination of SSP on Android, 15x70 finder scope, and Telrad proved a great team. I actually caught up several times and had plenty of time to kick back. IIRC, at least three times I was able to lie in my warm vehicle and rest for about 45 minutes.

The MM order I was following was from an SSP Observing List that someone had uploaded to the Southern Skies website. I believe it basically followed the Harvard Pennington MM order.

There were a few instances where I modified the order. The first was in the Virgo Galaxy Cluster area. I've always preferred tackling these galaxies beginning at Vindemiatrix and heading west, rather than starting at Denebola and going east. The 'Y' asterism - sometimes called the 'Oil Can' - at Rho Virginis is one of my landmarks. From there I hop to M58, M59 and M60. While I'm in the area, I swing SW to pick up M49 and M61, and then head back to the galaxy trio above the 'Y.' Next I go up to the bright galaxy pair M84 and M86, noticing 'The Eyes' as I head east along Makarian's Chain. This leads into a rough arc of M galaxies including M87, M89, M90, M91 and M88. From there I circle around back to M84 and M86. Then I head in the direction of Denebola, hit 6 Coma B., and use that star as an anchor to sight M98, M99, M100.

To me, this is much easier and makes more sense than starting from Denebola, especially if you're ahead of the game and don't need to hurry to gather up the western-most objects first. I'll have to rearrange the objects in this section of the MM list to suit me.

Another section of the list that did not make sense to me was when I was supposed to pick up objects around Lyra and Cygnus. For me, it was easier to get the globs in Ophiuchus first. But I suppose these things depend a lot on your latitude and the horizons at your site.

I wish I'd been able to complete the MM this year, but it was just not to be. I'm sure I could have seen all the Messiers that could be seen from my site. I'm not sure if I could have hit all of them from here at latitude 39 degrees, but I would have come close.

Mike

#2 IVM

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Posted 19 March 2013 - 10:01 AM

You were on track to reach a very high number! The thing with the March marathon is that you can get a fantastically clean and dark horizon in the evening, then 10 hours later the eastern horizon lets you down. The only way is to try, though.

Getting M33, 77, and 74 is an excellent result. In my marathon some years ago I could see them because I was very familiar with their appearance in that telescope at that magnification, so the extremely pale versions low in twilight "registered" with that visual memory.

I agree with you on the zoom in general. I used my Pentax 8-24 to confirm the smaller Messiers during my marathon, but most of the time I just kept the 40 mm Pentax XW in the scope (4" f/5.5), which served effectively as both the "main tube" and the finder. (EDIT: Gee, did this amount to cheating under the Astroleague rules? ;))

#3 Sarkikos

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Posted 19 March 2013 - 10:08 AM

Thanks. IIRC, the sky was clear all that night, so I would have had a good chance to finish the MM if it were possible from my latitude and given the horizons at my dark site. I'm not absolutely sure about either of those factors.

But I don't see me ever completing the MM unless I have an empty agenda the next day so I can sleep in. I see that as the first priority for a successful Messier Marathon! Now if it were possible to do the entire MM during summer vacation, that would be easy sneezy. But in March? Not so much.

:grin:
Mike

#4 Madratter

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Posted 19 March 2013 - 10:42 AM

There are no official rules for Messier Marathons at least that I am aware of. You kind of do whatever you want to do. Actually, I shouldn't say that. The official rule is the AL does not accept Messier Marathon observations to get the Messier pin. And they do not allow use of any kind of Setting circle or goto device.

Anyway, that was certainly a nice go knocking off that many.

#5 IVM

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Posted 19 March 2013 - 10:49 AM

I think I read it on the League website that when doing a marathon, it only counts if you see the object through "the main telescope" - observations through the finder only do not count. Statements like that kind of stick in your head ;), although it surely was a while ago and I may be mistaken. That's what I meant, at least.

#6 Sarkikos

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Posted 19 March 2013 - 11:14 AM

Yes, I do believe you have to see all the objects through one instrument. Now, I'm not sure it matters whether that one instrument is your main scope, the finder or binoculars, as long as you see them all through that instrument.

But I'm not doing this for official recognition. (I don't consider posting a thread to CN "official recognition." :grin:) I recently finished the H400, but I'm not going for a medal. "Badges? We don't need no stinkin' badges!"

At any rate, I do want to follow the general rules during the Messier Marathon, so as not to make it too easy and too mindless. Otherwise the "coffe grinder" should get the credit, not me.

:grin:
Mike

#7 Sarkikos

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Posted 19 March 2013 - 11:23 AM

I used Sky Safari Pro on an Android tablet to help me locate the objects and keep track of the list. But the tablet was not connected to my mount, so I think this would be considered analogous to using printed star charts.

Mike

#8 IVM

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Posted 19 March 2013 - 11:35 AM

Undoubtedly. I sort of understand if the League sets a certain standard, so that a bunch of folks from everywhere can say they did it the same way and compare the results in a sporting fashion. I personally think that there are innumerable rewarding ways of doing the marathon, and that does not exclude go-to. I felt like doing it manually with charts, like you, so that's how I did it - there was nothing more to that decision.

#9 LivingNDixie

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Posted 21 March 2013 - 09:44 AM

The key to the marathon is being able to keep awake to catch those early morning objects. The most I have seen is 103 in one night but that was in 2001 I believe.

#10 Sarkikos

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Posted 21 March 2013 - 10:15 AM

Yes, to keep awake and to have a clean slate for the next day so you can sleep in. I really have no problem staying up all night as long as I know I have nothing to do the next day.

Mike

#11 IVM

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Posted 21 March 2013 - 11:11 AM

A nap, once you are done with Virgo, is a viable approach.

#12 Sarkikos

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Posted 21 March 2013 - 11:33 AM

I took at least three 45 minute naps! :sleepy:

Mike

#13 MessierScott

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Posted 23 March 2013 - 02:33 PM

Actually, from the "horse's mouth", mine! (note my signature line below)

You can NOT use Messier Marathon runs towards the Astronomical League's Messier Program.

You CAN use multiple instruments, but I prefer no binoculars except on objects like M45, M44, etc.; objects that don't fit well in a typical field of view through a telescope.

But if you are doing the Messier Catalogue for your own purposes, you can do it anyway you want. For the League's ceritifcate and lapel pin, you have to follow their rules and be a member. As I tell people it's like this: You could be the smartest person in the world, but if you don't pay the MENSA dues, they will never recognize you.

As far as I know about Marathons: The old school rules are (1) use 1 instrument to view all objects, (2) all the objects need to be seen in 1 night's time, and (3) no electronics (everything must be found by TelRad or finderscope.

Our club however, wanting as many poeple to come out as possible and just enjoy the night sky, throws all those rules away. Over our "Messier Marathon Weekend", we allow GO-TO, we allow using observations combined over both nights, we allow viewing with any instrument, and we even allow sharing the views and letting the observation count. We usually have all kinds of food and hot beverages throughout the night as well. Typically, we get anywhere between 15-30 people from the club out for the weekend at our Dark Sky Site.

It's all in fun! I print out club certificates for everyone that participates, no matter how many objects they seen.

Of course, there are usually 4 or 5 of us die-hards that still follow the old school ways and really compete. I haven't done a Marathon for a few years. I usually spent the nights looking for much fainter stuff, or helping others out trying to locate the objects themselves. But I did participate throughout the 90's and up to about 2009. There were quite a few years that I got all 110.

#14 buddyjesus

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Posted 23 March 2013 - 05:55 PM

thanks for some clarification scott. I like the way your club does it as it puts FUN first.

#15 Sarkikos

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Posted 24 March 2013 - 11:51 AM

Scott,

As far as I know about Marathons: The old school rules are (1) use 1 instrument to view all objects, (2) all the objects need to be seen in 1 night's time, and (3) no electronics (everything must be found by TelRad or finderscope.


Define "electronics." My watch has a battery. So do all my redlights and my dew control. So does my Android tablet. I suppose they all qualify as "electronics." :grin:

SkySafari Pro on my Android tablet was a great help for star hopping to the challenging early evening objects in the west. But my Android tablet was not connected to the telescope's mount. I was using SSP as a scalable sky atlas, the same as a printed atlas except more convenient. Would SSP on an Android tablet be forbidden by the old-school Marathon rules? If so, that would be ridiculous, IMO. On the other hand, should manual setting circles be allowed?

Mike

#16 Sarkikos

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Posted 24 March 2013 - 11:52 AM

Scott,

Our club however, wanting as many poeple to come out as possible and just enjoy the night sky, throws all those rules away. Over our "Messier Marathon Weekend", we allow GO-TO, we allow using observations combined over both nights, we allow viewing with any instrument, and we even allow sharing the views and letting the observation count.


As long as it is for fun - why would anyone else do amateur astronomy? - I suppose goto is alright. At least the folks are learning about the Messier objects, even if they won't remember where they are or how to get there. Of course, without GPS, many of them wouldn't know where the dark site is or how to get there! :grin:

Mike

#17 MessierScott

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Posted 24 March 2013 - 12:40 PM

Scott,

As far as I know about Marathons: The old school rules are (1) use 1 instrument to view all objects, (2) all the objects need to be seen in 1 night's time, and (3) no electronics (everything must be found by TelRad or finderscope.


Define "electronics." My watch has a battery. So do all my redlights and my dew control. So does my Android tablet. I suppose they all qualify as "electronics." :grin:

SkySafari Pro on my Android tablet was a great help for star hopping to the challenging early evening objects in the west. But my Android tablet was not connected to the telescope's mount. I was using SSP as a scalable sky atlas, the same as a printed atlas except more convenient. Would SSP on an Android tablet be forbidden by the old-school Marathon rules? If so, that would be ridiculous, IMO. On the other hand, should manual setting circles be allowed?

Mike


OK, I'm not an authority on Marathons, but I would think the Sky Safari would be OK. I use Guide software on a latop as a sky atlas.

The electronics I mean, would be on the scope. I would think it would include no GO-TO automation, no electronic setting circles where the observer does PUSH-TO, and that type of stuff.

As far as manual setting circles, who knows. Years ago, I used them every once in a while to find objects in the daytime using offsets from the Sun, but in my experience, they usually only get you in the "ballpark area" of the object and you better have a wide field eyepiece in place. For many, they are more of a hinderence than help. I guess it all depends on how accurately you polar align and do your initial settings on the circles. I've always just found it easier to use a TelRad. I can't imagine observing without this simple genius little device.

I think for Marathons, it's up to you how you want to handle it (unless you are doing it with some organized group, then you have to follow their rules). Make it as easy or as difficult as you want.

#18 MessierScott

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Posted 24 March 2013 - 12:54 PM

Scott,

Our club however, wanting as many poeple to come out as possible and just enjoy the night sky, throws all those rules away. Over our "Messier Marathon Weekend", we allow GO-TO, we allow using observations combined over both nights, we allow viewing with any instrument, and we even allow sharing the views and letting the observation count.


As long as it is for fun - why would anyone else do amateur astronomy? - I suppose goto is alright. At least the folks are learning about the Messier objects, even if they won't remember where they are or how to get there. Of course, without GPS, many of them wouldn't know where the dark site is or how to get there! :grin:

Mike


Yes, years ago, I used to be absolutely against GO-TO, but I've slackened over the years and think of it this way.... at least it is getting people out observing and into the hobby. I also figure that if you don't tell me how I should observe, then I won't tell you.

Still I find observers trying to get thier GO-TO mounts to take them to Orion in July. Or trying to figure out why the scope won't take them to NGC 4755 (Jewel Box) from Kansas City. I've even seen one guy that packed it up on a perfect night, becasue his batteries had gone dead.

Even I use GO-TO on my scope every once in a great while. But I still think that star hopping and map reading is a skill that you can always fall back on.

#19 Sarkikos

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Posted 24 March 2013 - 01:18 PM

It's always good to have a Plan B. But in my case, I've never had goto. Now my Plan A is SkySafari Pro on Android, and my Plan B is Pocket Sky Atlas and Sky Atlas 2000!

:grin:
Mike

#20 okieav8r

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Posted 24 March 2013 - 01:32 PM

Here's my take, for what it's worth. I think the whole spirit and premise of the Messier marathon is to test the observer's skill at finding the objects on their own, using nothing more than their memory or a chart and their ability to use them, and the telescope, to find them. In my mind electronic charts are ok, because you still have to look up the object and interpret and tranfer what you are seeing to the scope. I just can't see giving anyone a certificate for letting a goto scope do all the work finding an object. But, if they're just doing it for fun, and not an oberving certificate, then more power to them. Just my opinion.

#21 MessierScott

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Posted 24 March 2013 - 02:10 PM

Here's my take, for what it's worth. I think the whole spirit and premise of the Messier marathon is to test the observer's skill at finding the objects on their own, using nothing more than their memory or a chart and their ability to use them, and the telescope, to find them. In my mind electronic charts are ok, because you still have to look up the object and interpret and tranfer what you are seeing to the scope. I just can't see giving anyone a certificate for letting a goto scope do all the work finding an object. But, if they're just doing it for fun, and not an oberving certificate, then more power to them. Just my opinion.


Yup, and that's exactly what we are doing in our club. I tell them straight away that this counts nothing towards the League's Messier Program. For us, it usually marks the beginning of another observing season (maybe not this year though since we just got another 8 inches of snow).

The certificate we hand out is our own club's and it even states exactly how they achieved it. ie:

- Astronomical Society of Kansas City recognizes Joe Blow for successful observation of 102 of the 110 Messier Objects
using a 14” Schmidt-Cassegrain telescope with GO-TO automation during the 2012 ASKC Messier Marathon

or
- Astronomical Society of Kansas City recognizes Jill Smith for successful observation of 31 of the 110 Messier Objects
using a 4" Dobsonian telescope and manual location during the 2012 ASKC Messier Marathon

or even
- Astronomical Society of Kansas City recognizes John Doe for successful observation of 110 of the 110 Messier Objects by borrowing the views from others during the two nights of the 2012 ASKC Messier Marathon

#22 Astro One

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Posted 24 March 2013 - 03:01 PM

I hardily agree with Scott and Mike on using Go-To, or as in my case DCS's. I started out years ago before DSC's, back in the late 60's. At that time, as a teenager I learned how to do some star hopping, albeit I couldn't find a lot of the more obscure stuff. I took a 35 year break from astronomy and started up again 10 years ago using DSC's. The DSC's aren't perfect and things do occasionally go haywire so I fall back on charts and star hopping. Due to this lack of complete reliability I even added an 80mm Stellarvue finder to my scope. The finder is also great for things like Kimble's cascade, the Pleiades, etc. Friends I have who are very good at star hoping like having me around so they can verify that what they are seeing is indeed the object they were looking for! Or if they get completely confused they have me dial in the object and look through my Telrad to get orientated. I really admire those who can star hop way better than I can, but to me it is more about viewing than struggling to locate stuff. But, still as I often go out alone I never let some glitch with the DSC's ruin my night!
Steve :).

#23 IVM

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Posted 25 March 2013 - 02:01 AM

Of course, without GPS, many of them wouldn't know where the dark site is or how to get there! :grin:

Mike


Well said. It is pertinent. If ever humans actually do a Messier marathon by visiting the objects physically, you can bet they will not be navigating there manually by star charts.

#24 okieav8r

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Posted 25 March 2013 - 08:10 AM

I hardily agree with Scott and Mike on using Go-To, or as in my case DCS's. I use them extensively. I started out years ago before DSC's, back in the late 60's. At that time, as a teenager I learned how to do some star hopping, albeit I couldn't find a lot of the more obscure stuff. I took a 35 year break from astronomy and started up again 10 years ago using DSC's. The DSC's aren't perfect and things do occasionally go haywire so I fall back on charts and star hopping. Due to this lack of complete reliability I even added an 80mm Stellarvue finder to my scope. The finder is also great for things like Kimble's cascade, the Pleiades, etc. Friends I have who are very good at star hoping like having me around so they can verify that what they are seeing is indeed the object they were looking for! Or if they get completely confused they have me dial in the object and look through my Telrad to get orientated. I really admire those who can star hop way better than I can, but to me it is more about viewing than struggling to locate stuff. But, still as I often go out alone I never let some glitch with the DSC's ruin my night!
Steve :).


I agree with you whole-heartedly Steve. I'm all for DSC's, GOTO, all of that--I use them a lot. I think they make observing more fun and the evening more productive, although I enjoy star hopping equally as much--thrill of the hunt, and all that. I should have made clear that my comments were strictly aimed at the Messier marathon, the spirit of what its about, and the awarding of certificates, particularly by the AL, for its completion.

#25 Bill Barlow

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Posted 25 March 2013 - 09:58 PM

Hi Scott,

A little off topic, but I am also a member of the ASKC and go down to Powell frequently when the moon is not bothersome. Do you ever go down there to observe? I am a star-hopper and use mostly my Meade 12" ACF or a nice C14 on an altaz mount, my S+T Sky Atlas, a 10x60 finder and a pair of 10x50 binoculars.

I like to hunt for the Arp and Hickson galaxy group's and have found about 25 of the Hickson's so far in the last 10 months or so.

Bill






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