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First Messier Marathon Results

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#1 CESDewar



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Posted 27 March 2006 - 06:20 PM

Ever since I first heard about doing a "Marathon" last year, I decided to try and get ready for 2006. Both traditional Saturdays had bad forecasts, But the Wednesday in-between looked clear and relatively warm so that was the target. The first Saturday came and went with skies that actually cleared shortly after 10pm, and upon learning that Wednesday's forecast was now completely cloudy (weather forecasts around here are so accurate :p), and Sunday's was clear, we decided to just go ahead. This was a first marathon for both of us. Kelly looks after Joe (our first gorilla) here at Gorilla Haven and is very interested in Astronomy. And even though she needed to be at work at 7:30am the next morning (the other keeper was off this week), that didn't seem to diminish her enthusiasm at all.

Gorilla Haven in the North Georgia Mountains is a relatively dark site, so we decided to try it out right here. We started out by a small lake which provided a pretty unobstructed view of the Western Horizon for the early-setting Messiers, although enough trees were around to mean equipment got moved a bit. Primary instrument was a Saturn III (37x100mm Binocular) with a C9.25 on a non-powered equatorial mount (no Goto!!) as a 'light-bucket' (although in fact, the C9.25 was only ever used to capture M110). Both devices are equipped with laser sights (perfect for this kind of DSO hunting). We had both practiced a bit back in February, and Kelly was maintaining the records and verifying all the catches. I had during the past year caught all 110 objects and have been making my own locator maps which were invaluable when time was at a premium. I use a combination of imagining straight lines drawn between bright stars and estimations of distances based upon those lines. This works especially well with a laser pointer where you are looking directly at the sky and pointing the laser at the same time. For Kelly, this was a first time to see most of the objects, so she got a crash course in observing fuzzies, and found several new favorites.

M74 was impossible - way too low by the time it even began to get dark enough to catch as my Western skies pick up light pollution from a town some 10 miles away. Andromeda was readily visible and M32 was not difficult. M110 was another matter - it was only JUST caught in the C9.25 - very borderline. M33 was missed too - another victim of light pollution. M77 was a bit of a mistake though - I had caught it without too much difficulty two nights earlier (low, but small and not as diffuse as M74), but tonight it was behind trees from this viewing position and there wasn't time to move to a new site, so it fell victim from being blocked. Net result was starting out with 3 misses which was a bit disappointing :(.

The good news though was that nothing else got missed until the very end :D. I had practiced the Leo/Virgo/Coma Berenices region on several nights in the preceding month and with good maps, got through all two dozen of them in less than fifteen minutes, including having Kelly independently verify each one and record the time.
The Saturn III's really shone for this kind of work - in many cases, my observing notes resulted in a quick pointing of the laser sight, and the object was already sitting in the field of view. We stayed at the first observing site till around 11pm, and then went inside to warm up (it was already down to 25°F), put on yet another layer of clothing, caught some hot tomato soup and then headed out to the second observing site which was actually inside the Gorilla Haven habitat itself (gorilla Joe was safely locked away needless to say). From there, there was a spectacular view of the dark Eastern horizon and I was able to pick up several objects at less than 10° elevation. By 5am we were down to the last few objects - M75/M15 and even M2 were picked up with relatively little difficulty, but the last three, like the first three, were not going to cooperate. I had known that M30 would be a no-show since the skies were already lighting up by the time it even rose, so I spent the last few minutes focussing on M72/73. This pair is not that easy to find under any conditions, and I was positive I was looking in the right region, but no amount of scanning found them. I think if I'd been looking in precisely the right spot early enough they would have been visible. So at 5:30am with the morning light starting to wash things out, and the temperature at a frosty 20°F, we called it a "night".

So the final tally was 104 - hitting the century mark was our goal, so going 4 over was frosting on the cake. Plus we got spectacular views of Saturn, Jupiter and Venus in the bargain. We decided we needed to do three things for next year - move to an observing site that has a darker Western horizon (at least for the first part of the evening) such as Brasstown Bald, and then specifically practice finding m33, m72/73 which should be do-able. I think 108 out of 110 can be done here, but to get M74 and m30 would take some careful strategies other than star-hopping to find, so some more research is needed there. The third item is finding some warmer clothes to wear - we were both pretty frozen at the end of it, but happy with the final results.

We got our photo taken a few hours later that morning in somewhat more hospitable 65° temperatures!
C. E. Steuart Dewar & Kelly Maneyapanda at Gorilla Haven

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#2 SaberScorpX



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Posted 27 March 2006 - 06:29 PM

Thanks for the report, C.E.
Dark and unobstructed horizons are definitely key players for the first and last set of targets.
Congrats on the great total. :waytogo:

Stephen Saber
PAC/Astronomical League

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#3 DenisY



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Posted 27 March 2006 - 06:41 PM

Congrats! Job well done!

#4 Art Fritzson

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Posted 27 March 2006 - 06:57 PM

Super results! Thanks for sharing with us!

- Art

#5 milt


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Posted 27 March 2006 - 07:19 PM

Hi C.E.,

Congratulations on a fantastic first marathon effort with the Saturn III. :bow: I went back and checked my observing records, and I only got 58 at my first Marathon in 2001. You set the bar pretty high for yourself for next year!

It is not unusual to miss one or two at the beginning and then again at the end. Some of the most jaded marathoners will abandon the night completely if they don't bag M77 or M74. I hope I never get that way...

#6 Glassthrower


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Posted 27 March 2006 - 08:43 PM

Nice job! :waytogo:

Any connection between Gorilla Haven and your avatar?


#7 CESDewar



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Posted 27 March 2006 - 10:22 PM

Any connection between Gorilla Haven and your avatar?

The Avatar is actually a small version of a 4'x6' portrait of Joe (our first gorilla) painted by the Japanese Wildlife Artist Chisato Abe and which she graciously donated to our project. During the day I work on Gorilla Haven business and at night on Pimlico Software which funds Gorilla Haven, so I don't get as much time for astronomy as I would like, but then again, with the weather here I get a lot more work done than I would in Arizona :roflmao:

#8 mplkn1


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Posted 27 March 2006 - 10:53 PM

Another great piece of writing about an outstanding Marathon!

Something about going through the whole cycle makes for a good tale when told in its entirety. I liked the bit about the tomato soup - I'll remember that when the time comes...

A positive and notable contribution - thank you so much for writing it up!

Best wishes,

#9 Cygnus2112


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Posted 28 March 2006 - 11:09 AM

Very Nice binoculars !!!!...and congrats on your findings !!!!...104 out of 110 is outstanding !!!!...:waytogo:

#10 EdZ


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Posted 29 March 2006 - 01:45 PM


In this thread Messier Marathon thread in Deep Sky Bill Ferris provides the SEDS contact page for submitting Messier marathon results to the official SEDS results page. I would encourage you to follow thru.

FWIW, very few people get 110.
The most commonly missed targets? M30, then M74.


#11 nownonEsWourf


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Posted 24 April 2009 - 10:50 AM

Just wanted to say hi since I'm new here!
'm happy to become a member of this community!!!
Hoping for the the best :)

#12 Dirk Jan

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Posted 24 April 2009 - 11:04 AM

Really nice! I hope to do a similar marathon when my two prime prerequisites have been met; 1. get a pair of bino's, 2. get the heck out of light polluted Holland for a while.

Your location seems awesome. Also your work with gorilla's in a natural environment sounds great, really. (In the process of losing my job myself, sadly, because the company where I worked for 7 years went bankrupt this week).

p.s. Do you get called "Silverback" occasionally? Just curious :)

p.p.s. And hi to you too nownonEsWourf! Pretty much a newb myself here. *waves*

#13 CESDewar



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Posted 24 April 2009 - 10:48 PM

Well..Welcome to both of you!

I was surprised to see this post popup again some three years later :)
As for that 2006 Marathon, the following year, I (if i'm permitted to boast just a bit :D) managed 109 out of 110 - only missing M30 which common wisdom says is just about impossible from here (in fact I didn't see anyone in the world do 110 from North of this latitude that year). And yes, a key factor was being fortunate enough to have very dark skies - some of the darkest skies East of the Mississipi in the USA.

p.s. Do you get called "Silverback" occasionally? Just curious

Only by my wife, but many of my friends call me the "gorilla-man" which I also take as a nice complement :grin:

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