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Messier surveys with small apertures

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#1 mwedel

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Posted 28 February 2017 - 11:58 AM

One of the first things I stumbled across when I got into amateur astronomy was Jay Reynolds Freeman's site. His essay, "Messier surveys" (here) has been an inspiration that I've returned to many times. I know that I've seen all of the Messiers with my XT10, most of them with my old XT6 and 15x70 bins, and many of them with other instruments, including a 70mm refractor and 9x50 finder. My marathon record is 108, with the XT10. But despite my fondness for the idea, I've never deliberately completed a Messier survey with a single instrument. 

 

But I have at least started one now. I recently picked up a 4" f/4.5 achro for rich field observing and after a few nights out with it I realized that it would probably make a fantastic Messier chaser. So last Friday night I started a Messier survey with it. I was out from 10 PM to 3 AM but I wasn't pushing very hard - I spent a lot of time hunting non-Messier NGCs, I deliberately put off the spring galaxy fields, and I just plain forgot to observe M1 before it set. I got 22 Messiers that night. I used this form to log my observations - since I've been through all of the Messiers before with larger instruments, I wasn't focusing on drawing out new details, but I did want to write at least a brief impression for future reference and comparison. I picked up M29, M39, and M56 on dawn patrol a couple of weeks ago, so my Messier tally for this scope stands at 25.

 

I was also using 7x50 bins and every Messier object I attempted Friday night was visible, although I forgot to look for M79 and M57. So 20 Messiers so far for those bins, although they were almost all easy ones in or near the winter Milky Way.

 

Visual record-keeping is very motivating for me, so I'm highlighting objects in green as I go:

 

Messiers tally For Bresser Comet Edition 2017 02 28

 

Here's a blank one if you'd like to do the same:

 

Messiers For tally

 

I'm posting about this for two reasons: first, in the hope that publicly committing to this project will help motivate me to complete it, and second, because I'd love to hear from other folks who have observed all the Messier objects with small instruments. I know they should all be cake with a 4" scope. I'm thinking about attempting another survey with a 60mm scope when I'm done with this one. How low did you go?

 

 


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#2 Astrojensen

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Posted 28 February 2017 - 01:00 PM

Once did an impromptu Messier Marathon with my 63mm Zeiss one evening, without using a map. Bagged 37 objects in 1.5 hours and even forgot about three or four that I could have seen. I've not seen all the Messiers, because I'm at 55°N and some of them only rise a degree or two above my horizon and one of them, M7, rises only 13 arcminutes above it, refraction not taken into account. 

 

 

Clear skies!

Thomas, Denmark


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#3 musicengin

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Posted 28 February 2017 - 01:15 PM

I have a 3" reflector, and nothing larger, so the Messier objects are about my speed.  I can't see very many galaxies with it, but open clusters are gorgeous.

 

My high water mark is 50 in one night; my most recent outing I bagged 39, and if it it hadn't've been for the moon rising plop in the middle of Scutum it would have been more (all those ones that got away!)

 

But I added two to my all-time list, which I guess is some where between 50 and 60. I've been a telescope user for about a year and a half now.

 

I'm not sure how many more I'll be able to add to my all-time  Messier list with this scope, which is helping to motivate my 4.5" build.  I don't think it will be up and running before this year's Messier season ends, but that's ok! I'm still having plenty of fun with the 3".


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#4 Glob

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Posted 28 February 2017 - 01:46 PM

I've only completed the Messier list with my 8" (well almost, I still have to bag M83), but have recently been having a lot of fun hunting the Messier's with my ST-80, 10x42's, and 15x70's.  I'm at a loss to explain (even to myself) why it is so fun to barely, barely detect an object with a small instrument when I have a much more capable instrument handy.  I guess it's about the challenge.

 

I was recently able to just barely detect M74 with the 15x70's.  It appeared as very dim patch of almost nothingness set on a background of even more nothingness.  Subtract almost nothingness from nothingness and you get somethingness!  Even if you can only see it fleetingly with averted vision.  Again, hard to explain why it is so fun.  In this case it proved to me that I should be able to see all Messier's with the 15x70's.

 

mwedel, I read and enjoy your blog, let me suggest nicknaming the 4"  "The Ferret" as King Louis XV called Messier.

 

Bill


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#5 IVM

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Posted 28 February 2017 - 01:50 PM

Your 4" F/4.5 will be an excellent Messier scope. I did 105 in my Messier marathon with my F/5.5 4", an old Televue. I believe I've seen all Messiers with it.


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#6 mwedel

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Posted 28 February 2017 - 03:06 PM

Thanks, everyone, for some great responses. 

 

Thomas, I've been following your small-scope observing reports for some time now, and I count you as an inspiration and reliable source of good information on what is possible by a committed observer with a small but high-quality instrument. 

 

musicengin, I hadn't previously heard about your 3" f/12.8, so I went to your gallery to check it out. What a cool scope! At that f/ratio it must be razor-sharp. And I really like your build - lots of clever solutions, but straightforward enough that it makes me think, "Hey, I could do that." So, ATM sweet spot in my book. I made my own 3" minimalist reflector a few years ago (pictures and writeup here), but I've never done any serious observing with it. I should at least run through the Messiers with it. 

 

Ivan, I've always thought those old TeleVues were cool. I don't know all of the stats for them - was yours an Oracle or a Genesis or something else? Do you still have it?

 

I'm at a loss to explain (even to myself) why it is so fun to barely, barely detect an object with a small instrument when I have a much more capable instrument handy.  I guess it's about the challenge.

 

Bill, you hit the nail on the head. I know the Messiers all look great in the XT10 - been there, done that, loved it, and will undoubtedly do it again. I've seen the central star in M57 in a friend's 24-inch and it was extremely cool. But it didn't move me like realizing that I could clearly make out the Ring as a non-stellar object at 12x in a 70mm refractor from my driveway. 

 

mwedel, I read and enjoy your blog, let me suggest nicknaming the 4"  "The Ferret" as King Louis XV called Messier.

 

That is a lovely suggestion, and it put a huge smile on my face. One thing I haven't blogged about yet is that basically by serendipity I managed to pick up an 80mm prototype of the Bresser 'reflactor'. So now I have two, big and little, otherwise nearly identical. Ferrets are mustelids (weasel family), along with wolverines, badgers, skunks, fishers, martens, stoats, weasels, and otters. My late grandfather was an accomplished taxidermist and one of his stuffed badgers is sitting on top of a bookcase about four feet from me as I type. It's just about the same size as the 4" reflactor. So I'm going to take your charming suggestion, with one modification: the 80mm will be the Ferret, as I anticipate some effort to ferret out all the Messiers with it, and the 4" is henceforth the Badger, because it can just knock them around with all that aperture. Thanks for helping me solve that long-standing and vexing problem!


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#7 IVM

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Posted 28 February 2017 - 04:11 PM

The F/5.5 is a Comet Halley Renaissance. I am keeping it.



#8 mwedel

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Posted 28 February 2017 - 04:22 PM

Awesome. Somehow I had forgotten about the Renaissance.

 

It's interesting, I know TeleVue is constantly upgrading their product lines but I hear from a lot of people who have older TV gear and plan on keeping it forever. So I infer that even the older stuff is pretty darned good.



#9 Astrojensen

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Posted 28 February 2017 - 05:45 PM

 

Thomas, I've been following your small-scope observing reports for some time now, and I count you as an inspiration and reliable source of good information on what is possible by a committed observer with a small but high-quality instrument.

Thank you! I don't observe much deep-sky with my small scopes any more, after getting my 12" dob, but it happens occasionally. 

 

 

Clear skies!

Thomas, Denmark



#10 Allan Wade

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Posted 28 February 2017 - 07:18 PM

There are about 10 Messiers I can't see from my southern vantage point, so I only have one instrument I have seen all of them in. A pair of Orion Resolux 10x50's that I took to the Winter Star Party so I could tick off the final 10 on the list. I recall some of the galaxies were a challenge, but very dark skies made that easier.


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#11 mwedel

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Posted 28 February 2017 - 08:00 PM

I'm happy to hear that, Allan. I haven't come across too many reports of people catching all of them in 50mm bins. I know a few have done it, but I don't know if those are just legendary observers. My eyes are only so-so, so we'll see how much help they need. I'm very curious how much work it will take to make M76 look non-stellar.

 

Also, feel my jealousy rays, Aussie! I've only gotten one short hop below the equator so far. I was traveling for a scientific conference in Uruguay and all I had along were 10x50 bins and an SV50 scope, but I got three good nights under reasonably dark skies and the splendors of the southern Milky Way are burned into my memory. The next time I get to go south, I am taking more aperture, even if I have to stuff an 8" mirror in my shirt and tell security it's a medical device.


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#12 Allan Wade

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Posted 28 February 2017 - 08:22 PM

There's plenty of friendly astronomers in Oz who would be keen to show you the southern sky. Just book a flight and announce you're coming, and someone will take you under their wing. I've stood next to people as the sun set who have never seen the southern sky before. The excitement as stars start emerging is very contagious.


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#13 Astrojensen

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Posted 01 March 2017 - 03:08 AM

 

I'm very curious how much work it will take to make M76 look non-stellar.

I observed M76 in 10x50 binos a few years ago, under fairly dark skies, with the binos on a tripod. I was frankly surprised by how easy I found M76. It definitely felt much easier than M97.

 

 

Clear skies!

Thomas, Denmark 


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#14 mwedel

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Posted 01 March 2017 - 03:59 AM

*BLEEP* - I'd forgotten about M97. I need to check my logbook, I have a dim memory of having detected it and M108 with very modest aperture out in the Mojave.



#15 Astrojensen

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Posted 01 March 2017 - 01:07 PM

*BLEEP* - I'd forgotten about M97. I need to check my logbook, I have a dim memory of having detected it and M108 with very modest aperture out in the Mojave.

I believe that. I've seen them, dimly, in my 8x40 on a superb night. 

 

 

Clear skies!

Thomas, Denmark



#16 Tony Flanders

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Posted 01 March 2017 - 04:56 PM

One of the first things I stumbled across when I got into amateur astronomy was Jay Reynolds Freeman's site. His essay, "Messier surveys" (here) has been an inspiration that I've returned to many times.


Inspired by the same essay, I have made a habit of attempting all the Messiers with each of my instruments. In a few cases, such as my 6x15 monocular, I haven't gotten very far ...

I want to observe all the objects at their best, so I don't attempt Marathon-style observing, which forces you to observe many objects when they're far lower than optimal.

I've seen all the Messier objects except M98 and M109 with my 10x50 binoculars. They're all quite easy to spot -- and many fairly detailed -- through 15x70 and image-stabilized 15x45 binoculars.

Obviously, dark skies help a lot.
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#17 Arcticpaddler

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Posted 01 March 2017 - 08:38 PM

I would bet that EVERY Messier object can be seen with 10x50 binos under excellent conditions.  I've seen M74, M97, and M108 (among many others) with those binos, and fooling around, was even able to glimpse M101 with 10x24 binos on two separate nights when it was overhead on very dark, transparent nights.


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#18 Dave Mitsky

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Posted 01 March 2017 - 09:18 PM

Last year I conducted three half-marathons due to weather and other factors using my 10" f/4.7 Sky-Watcher Collapsible Dob at a dark site and an 8" f/6 Hardin Dob at the Naylor Observatory.  For the most part, I used only a 13mm Tele Vue Ethos, which at 92x and a 1.1 degree TFOV, made a perfect complement for the 1200mm focal length Dobs.

 

Dave Mitsky



#19 Glob

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Posted 01 March 2017 - 09:46 PM

I'm glad you liked my nickname suggestion Matt.  The Badger and the Ferret are good names, if it was a children's book, I'm sure the diminutive Ferret would win!   -Bill


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#20 Glob

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Posted 01 March 2017 - 09:57 PM

 

 

I'm very curious how much work it will take to make M76 look non-stellar.

I observed M76 in 10x50 binos a few years ago, under fairly dark skies, with the binos on a tripod. I was frankly surprised by how easy I found M76. It definitely felt much easier than M97.

 

 

Clear skies!

Thomas, Denmark 

 

Of course I believe Thomas' assessment, but I've found M97 a bit easier than M76 in my 10x42's.  It just shows that due to all the variables with eyes, skies, and supplies, reaching a consensus as to how difficult one object rates against another is not very likely.

---Bill



#21 Astrojensen

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Posted 02 March 2017 - 03:29 AM

 

 

 

I'm very curious how much work it will take to make M76 look non-stellar.

I observed M76 in 10x50 binos a few years ago, under fairly dark skies, with the binos on a tripod. I was frankly surprised by how easy I found M76. It definitely felt much easier than M97.

 

 

Clear skies!

Thomas, Denmark 

 

Of course I believe Thomas' assessment, but I've found M97 a bit easier than M76 in my 10x42's.  It just shows that due to all the variables with eyes, skies, and supplies, reaching a consensus as to how difficult one object rates against another is not very likely.

---Bill

 

If I did it today, I might come to a conclusion similar to yours. Our impression of the objects vary through the years, as we gain experience, get to look at them with different instruments and under various conditions. The most recent best view tends to leave the most vividly remembered impression, which can influence our impression of how difficult the objects are, especially relative to one another.

 

 

Clear skies!
Thomas, Denmark


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#22 timokarhula

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Posted 02 March 2017 - 05:20 AM

I have seen every Messier-object with 10x50 or smaller binoculars.  In my opinion, M91 (NGC4548) in Coma Berenices, is perhaps the most difficult of them.  I believe all of them would be visible also in 7x50 but my binocular lacks a tripod adaptor.  Some of the fainter M-objects have I not been able to see with 7x50 unmounted.

 

/Timo Karhula


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#23 Tony Flanders

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Posted 02 March 2017 - 06:48 AM

I have seen every Messier-object with 10x50 or smaller binoculars.  In my opinion, M91 (NGC4548) in Coma Berenices, is perhaps the most difficult of them.  I believe all of them would be visible also in 7x50 but my binocular lacks a tripod adaptor.  Some of the fainter M-objects have I not been able to see with 7x50 unmounted.

 

/Timo Karhula

I don't doubt that they're all detectable in 7x50s. But I, for one, cannot tell that M57 is non-stellar at 7X. I can barely do so at 10X.

 

Magnification is far more important than aperture in this case. As I said before, they're all easy and mostly interesting in 15x45s.


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#24 Tony Flanders

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Posted 02 March 2017 - 04:14 PM

One of the fun things about surveying the Messier objects with a small scope -- something like a 60-mm refractor -- is that you get to see the objects very much as Messier and Mechain saw them.


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#25 Dave Mitsky

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Posted 02 March 2017 - 04:23 PM

I believe all of them would be visible also in 7x50 but my binocular lacks a tripod adaptor.

 

Jay Reynolds Freeman was able to detect all of the Messier objects with a 7x50 binocular (see the link in post #1).

 

I came upon the habit of going through the whole catalog with a single instrument rather by chance. The first time, in 1978, I had no choice. My only serviceable instrument was a 7x50 binocular with simple magnesium fluoride coatings. That Messier survey was the most difficult I have ever performed, but for that reason, it was the most fun.

 

Dave Mitsky




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