Messier Marathon - 2010 report

By admin; Published 24 Oct 2010

The Messier Marathon for BAS was actually destined to be a successful one. We specifically exerted ourselves in some aspects which as you will realize after reading, we broke some of our own records.

Inspite of having a very thick layer of haze since morning until reaching our observing site @ Koratgere (30km North off Tumkur Road NH-4), which actually negatively drowned our spirit, it slowly cleared as the Sun snoozed into the darkness. By then we had a simply clear blue sky, with very little thin haze lingering. I simply acknowledge this favorism to the grateful forces of Nature, very thankfully. But, by midnight sky conditions improved pretty much, and they were not steady throughout the night. Later on, we were actually observing through some lot of background glow, contribution attributed to the adjacent major town!

It was tragic to learn that M52 open cluster was so low, with companions of Andromeda and M33 galaxy, the difficult M74 and M76 that we all missed them. In essence the success rate for all was very low in the evening. Plus, add that disgusting newly installed bright tube-light in the North creating bright shadows, which when we covered with a plastic cover climbing up, turned to be savior for rest of the night.

Akarsh had advantage of aperture-power over us binocular observers, so he had a little ease of "pulling out objects". Which is why I lost atleast 5 objects (M110, M76, M74, M33, and even M103) in the evening sky, very much de-moralizing me. Happy that atleast he managed to have a good start, observing half of these too.

Remember, when I was doing this Marathon, it was purely with the 25x100, which included me not even counting elementary objects like Pleiades, Andromeda, Orion Nebula and the tons of small-binocular objects, if I didnt point at them with the equipment. Aim was to attempt all 110 with the 25x100's only. I had to prepare myself for the worst, moreover, since the tripod I had was a little flimsy one and had limitations pointing at the zenith (a gruesome example below).

Akarsh, the born-prodigy he is, attempted and aspired for a "110-Messier Marathon and total 210 objects by MEMORY" which means he did not use a finder chart for even one of the 210 objects (ofcourse this included counting off unplanned objects as you "discover" them with the large aperture). Nor did he have the sequence ready in hand of what-is-the-next-Messier object!! I bow down at this versatile observer's aspiration, stamina and confidence for attempting something like this, an act which mostly no amateur in the Country would even imagine of!

Once we began, the whole night appeared a smooth sail for all observers; Keerthi with his 8-inch and the other binocular observers. The evening Milky-Way objects, later galaxies of Virgo, UMa, Leo consumed time. When Sagittarius and Scorpius rose everyone's eyes were hooked upon the globulars, opens and nebulae in the vivid region.

Earlier, we had a couple guests while dinner, and Akarsh took the initiative of holding a short outreach session using his 17" telescope time, pointing at objects, explaining the basics and in this way adding to his count of Marathon and keep on going. This outreach lasted around 45 minutes!

Now there was a major anomaly which degraded my productivity. My tripod was holding on the 5-kilo binoc weight no doubt, but there was a limitation to where I could point; which was not possible more than some 60-degree altitude and I had to bend cumbersomely.

I saw Virgo rising at 45-degree altitude, and could not actually aim at the galactic cluster overhead. Virgo passed zenith slowly all through the night and I simply held on until it declined in the western sky lower. That means a telescope user had finished Virgo hours before me, and you found me funnily and impatiently just "sitting" for most time, until it was low again. I only did Virgo after I had half finished finished the dawn Sagittarius and Scorpius objects!

A couple striking observations with my 25x100's I would like to share is - I could intuitively sense the presence of a barred-spiral feature in M83 galaxy and also a central dust lane in the edge-on galaxy NGC 2683 in Cancer-Lynx border with these binoculars! The double star M40 was visible as a very cute compact barely resolved double star. We also saw 3 comets with the "Monster" scope in the course of night --- C/2007 Q3 Siding Spring, 81/P Wild-2 and C/2009 K5 McNaught - the last of which is my new 31st observed comet count! The latter 2 were medium-bright @ ~9th mag and beautiful in the 17", sporting a faint visual tail, each.

Everyone were observing with their respective equipment, the sky glow increasing considerably than before. We were battling to strain and pull out objects from the background glow. By dawn everyone were on their way. With me it was the case of not yet having entered the Virgo Cluster, before immediately moving onto the "morning rush" objects. It was by 5am that I barely managed to finish tracking all Virgo-Coma galaxies with a detailed finder chart, just realizing that I have half hour more and indeed many more objects remaining, fearing the worst! I gushed my 25x100's at all of them and managed M15 and M2 as the last, missing out M75 globular not having even observed it generally in years! Did not make it a point to attempt M72 and M73 knowing they are next to impossible. By now my hands were really sore managing the heavy binoculars all night-long with awkward observing contortions.

These last few minutes were a mad rush, with panic in the air for all observers. It could be over in sometime, and still we had to nail those elusive late objects. Akarsh was the luckiest to observe M72, M73, M75 among the concluding challenges. We all missed out M30 which was very low in the deep blue twilight.

By morning, the inpouring twilight pronounced an end to the mesmerizing act of Messier Marathon. We packed up our equipment and hit the sack in our observing site's room itself. We had a good sleep till 11am from 7am, after which with some astronomy discussion, we inched slowly back to Bangalore, reaching only by 4:00pm.

The final results are summarized as below:

(1) Akarsh Simha - Completely from memory, 105 Messiers and totally 210 objects including these! Without a finder chart for ANY object, going solo by memory and the 17-inch.

(2) Amar A. Sharma - 100 M's solely with a 25x100 Oberwerk-IF binocs. Additionally ~30 non-M objects.

(3) Keerthi Kiran - 95 Messiers with his 8" f/8 telescope.

(4) Achyut Jamadagni - 57 Messiers with my 20x80 Celestron binoc.

(5) Rakesh Nath - Around 55 Messiers with 10x50 Olympus binoculars.

(6) Madan Kumar - Around 25 objects with my 10x50 Olympus binocs.

I've realized one thing that now I've built such a good rapport with my binoculars, that I know these can be the ultimate equipment for the distant time to come. The countless Divine stars in Milky-Way fields, and attempt at comet-hunting is something my eyes have got tuned for, coupled with them.

Awaiting for the next Marathon, and something innovative to achieve, with inspiration from this good one! Lastly, humble thanks to Mother Nature for planning everything positively for us.