The Messier Marathon last weekend was tons of fun. It’s always great to get together with others who share your passion. And although we amateurs often gather in groups to observe, there’s not always a lot of social interaction going on.
And that’s why I like the Marathon. When it is clear, you can observe all night long, and when it’s cloudy, you can hang out socially with people you like. It’s a win-win either way.
This year it was clear at sunset. As it got dark, I piddled much of the first hour away noodling with the finder scope and getting things polar aligned. Luckily, Amy distracted me by finding Messiers with her binoculars. If it had’t been for her, I would have missed it all because, about an hour after it got dark enough to observe, the clouds rolled in from the West and stayed for the night.
Inside the shelter, there was talk about moving the Marathon up until early April next year, but in April you’re wrestling with dew all night long, and that can be really frustrating too.
Had a great time though. Got to hang out with Amy, ate lots of treats, scored a chunk of Fran’s Oreo tort before it was gone, got skunked in a Cribbage game with Amy, Jim and Wayne, got more practice polar aligning the telescope, and got to bed early. It was a good night.
Over the weekend, our astronomy group hosted our annual Messier Marathon at the Brillion Nature Center. About 40 people showed up bringing both treats and telescopes. Amy and I attended but were late because of prior commitments.
The Messier Marathon is an annual event held by many astronomy clubs. It all started with the 18th century French astronomer Charles Messier, who cataloged 110 deep sky galaxies, nebulae, and star clusters. The idea is that you begin observing the list of objects as they’re setting at sundown, and then work your way eastward across the sky. If everything lines up just perfect, and it’s a moonless, cloudless, dew-free night between mid-March and early April, it’s possible to observe all 110 Messier objects in one night.
In the past, Amy and I recorded at least a handful of the early Messier’s and qualified for a Messier observing award. This year, we figured we’d get some of the later objects, but somehow we didn’t get any Messier’s at all.
I did manage to knock off six observations needed for other Astronomical League observing programs, and Amy was able to find the asteroid Vesta with her binoculars, which shone at a magnitude 5.9 and was close enough to Mars to make it relatively easy to find.
When Amy and I left around three (yes, I meant 3 a.m. – a new Marathon record for both of us) there were still at least a half-dozen die-hards there, waiting inside the shelter for the next round of Messier objects to rise.
Next year we’ll try it again and maybe take it all a little more seriously. Who knows? Maybe someday we’ll bag all 110 objects.