Messier Marathon at Coe

Firsts, firsts and more firsts

by Craig Colvin

I had a great time doing my 1st Messier Marathon at Henry Coe last night. There was a good crowd at the beginning of the evening and a fairly large exodus in the early morning hours. At dawn there were 9 cars left but only 6 of us still observing.

This is my first OR so let's see how I do.

ObserverCraig Colvin
LocationHenry Coe (N37 11.250, W121 33.016)
EquipmentOrion XT10 dobsonian
Eyepieces35mm Panoptic (34x), 13mm Nagler (92x), 6.7mm Meade UWA (179x)
Time7:45pm - 4:55am PST
Sky ConditionsLM 5.7 (13 stars in Leo (field 9)), seeing was good most of the night but decreased somewhat in the late morning. There was a low haze just along the horizon to the west and south.
WeatherTemperatures in the 50s with little to no wind until 3ish when the wind picked up slightly and the temperatures dropped into the 40s.

I arrived at 6:30 and got all setup, and then waited for it to get dark. I've only been observing for 3 months and have never seen the constellations containing the first targets of the evening M77 and M74 but I had printed out some sky maps of just that area and didn't think it would be too much of a problem. I was wrong. The sky was so bright that I couldn't match the sky to my maps and by the time it got dark enough M77 and M74 were in the haze to the west so I couldn't see them. Oh well move on to M33 I've seen it before so I should be able to find it. Can't locate it and start to think maybe it's too bright and I should just wait. While I'm waiting I try M31, and finally bag my first Messier of the evening at 7:51pm. Get M32/110 as well and then try for M52. Behind a tree! At this point I actually panic and start to think this isn't going to be as easy as I thought.

Since my observing began in January I have looked at all of the Messiers in the winter sky several times so it turns out my panic was unjustified. Going through these familiar objects was quite easy and I spent the next 2 1/2 hours knocking them off one by one. I finally got to the Virgo cluster at 10:40pm. I have heard many stories about the difficulties that people often have in the Virgo area during a marathon so I had come prepared. About two weeks ago I spent two nights going through the Virgo cluster getting all of the Messier objects and had come up with my own star hopping scheme with M58 as the starting point. I printed up some charts of the star hops needed and then I practiced it earlier this week. As a result of this practice the Virgo cluster was a piece of cake. I breezed through Virgo and Coma Berenices in about 10 minutes. At this point there where only a couple of non observed Messier's above the horizon so took a break at 11:10pm.

Get back to it at 11:50pm and snag the few visible Ms, then get to some below the horizon and think I'm going to have to stop again but then realize that further down the list there are some objects that are visible as well so I jump back and forth in the list and grab another 10 or so. Take another break to look at asteroid Vesta and then Pluto in Mark Berger's Nexstar C11. We weren't sure about Pluto because everything in the FOV was so faint and I couldn't get the sky charts to match.

Some more Messiers are now about the horizon so I get back at it and immediately run into trouble. I'm now viewing areas of the sky I've never looked at before and I don't recognize the constellations. My progress slows way down as I have to star hop from known constellations through these unknowns. This is going ok until M6 in SCO. I can't locate it! I end up spending the next 45 minutes trying to locate it. Finally at 2:45am I figure out I'm in the complete wrong area of the sky, find the correct area and locate it. Once I was in the correct constellation the remaining objects are much easier (funny how that works) and I hopped from one to the other. I finished up M73 at 4:24am and then go back an pick up M52 which had been behind the tree at the beginning of the evening. I then wait for M30 but by the time I look for it the sky is already quite bright and I never saw it.

So final result 106 objects, missing ones were M77, M74, M33, and M30. First time observation of 34 of the Messiers. And most important, I had a great time!