Run a Messier Marathon

Look over Robert’s shoulder as he tries to log all 110 Messier Objects in one night.

No matter how carefully you prepare, the reality of Marathon night is likely to be different from what you expected. As the military strategist Karl von Clausewitz observed, no battle plan survives first contact with the enemy. Few Messier Marathons are any different. In this hack, we’ll try to give you a flavor for the reality of running a Messier Marathon.

Robert ran his first (and, to date, only) Messier Marathon on 1/2 April 2003 from an observing site at a private lodge near the Blue Ridge Parkway in southern Virginia. Two other club members, Steve Childers and Paul Jones, participated in this First Annual Winston-Salem Astronomical League Messier Marathon. None of us had done a Messier Marathon previously. Steve used his 10” Dob, with a 27mm Panoptic and 14mm and 10.5mm Pentax XL eyepieces. Paul used his binocular and his 8” SCT with 32mm Tele Vue Ploessl and 14mm Pentax XL eyepieces. Robert used his binocular and his 10” Dob with 14mm and 40mm Pentax XL eyepieces and a 2X Barlow.

The site was quite dark for the Eastern U.S., about Bortle 3.5 ( The horizons were excellent from E through NNW, but obstructed from 2° to as much as 34° by the lodge itself and a treeline from N through NE. The main horizon obstruction was nearly dead north, and if you have to have an obstruction during a Messier Marathon, that’s where you want it. Weather conditions ...

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