President's Message: March Messiers

Markarian’s Chain in the heart of the Virgo Galaxy Cluster by Greg Marshall

Markarian’s Chain in the heart of the Virgo Galaxy Cluster by Greg Marshall

If the Daphne is blooming by my front door and a soft glow of light fills my living room in the morning, then it must be spring, and time for a Messier Marathon.  We have three opportunities to do a March Messier Marathon this year.  It’s a lot of work, but doing a March Messier Marathon offers the chance to see the best 110 showpieces of the sky in one night.  It’s also an opportunity to build skills locating and identifying objects.  All that while you get to see those low-down objects whose season is ending, like the pack of dogs at Orion’s feet, and to get into the middle of the Virgo/Leo galaxy field when they are in season. 

Being prepared with good resources can save time and frustration on the field, which is true for any observing session.  The best MM resource by far is Harvard Pennington’s Year-Round Messier Marathon, affectionately known as the Red Book.  This is worth purchasing.  John Taylor kindly posted his Messier Marathon list to the Forum for anyone to download.  The nice thing about this list is that it’s in Excel, so the user can alter it to satisfy his or her own quirks and proclivities. 

Our own Howard Knytych created this slideshow about doing a Messier Marathon. He also offered a pdf form of the MM list which someone in RCA produced a number of years ago.

Upcoming Observing Opportunities

Let’s hope we get some good weather either on Friday and Saturday nights, March 4 and 5 at Wapinita Airstrip near Maupin, or on the 12th at Stub Stewart, or again on March 19 at OMSI’s Spring Equinox event at Rooster Rock State Park. The last event will not be completely suitable for a Marathon, since the early part of the evening will be devoted to the public, but later at night, if all is well, we could be bagging a lot of galaxies.  If the weather isn’t with us, do not despair.  It’s possible to run an observing marathon almost any new moon of the year, though you won’t get all 110 Messiers.  And it’s possible to spend one year observing the Messier objects when each of them is at its best rather than chasing some of them around in the light of sunset or sunrise. 

GAMA in Mendoza, Argentina celebrating its own Messier Marathon.

At the same time, our sister club in Argentina will be attempting to complete its own Messier Marathon list, which they have altered to suit their own skies at this time of year.  Should you happen to be spending March in the Cook Islands or Canberra, Australia, here is a list for you!

The first year I did a Messier Marathon, I spent the first night in my car while it was being buffeted heartily by strong winds.  The next night was balmyand I got 66 items.  I was thrilled with my new 12.5” scope.  I wrote “globs began to resolve, galaxies took on personalities, and the big globs were fabulous.” That same night, Jupiter was huge and a bright green slow thick bolide fell lazily straight toward Earth. Later I went to Arizona and got 98 items in one exhausting night.  If you do a Messier Marathon, be sure to post your results on the Forum, and take good notes.  You’ll enjoy reading them ten years later. 

In the meantime, the season is warming up and so are we.  Check us on Facebook and our website for updates on everything.  I hope you have a terrifically astronomical March, however you celebrate it. 

Yours, Margaret McCrea