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 . 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