Messier Marathon 2003

Date: Feb. 28th / Mar. 1st; Dusk to dawn (nautical twilight)
Site: Ebenwaldhöhe, Lower Austria (Lat.: 47 58' 52" North; Long.: 15 41' 38" East; Alt.: 1019m)
Observer: Wolfgang "Howdii" Howurek
Instrument: Ceravolo HD145 (5.7" f/6 Maksutov-Newtonian) on Vixen SP-DX mount ("unplugged"); 7x50 finder;
Standard eyepiece: TeleVue 22mm Panoptic, yielding 40x at an exit pupil of 3.67mm.

Conditions:When I arrived at the observing site I found my astronomy partner Walter Koprolin on the southern end of the parking lot, sheltered behind some trees, instead of the preplanned spot some hundred meters further back, in the clear. A stiff breeze from the west hindered us to set up there, a place with a more favourable horizon line for the Messier marathon. At this time it was cloudy, but we were in hope for the sky to clear up soon. The ground was icy and slippery, around us a snow covered landscape. The night was moderately cold at 0C or slightly below, no dew. The sky was still partly cloudy at nightfall, but cleared up completely within the first 1.5 hours of darkness. Towards midnight the wind calmed down. It came back at moderate strength for a while after midnight, and calmed down again before dawn. Just at the beginning of dawn clouds moved in from the west and north. By the start of nautical twilight there was only a small gap of clear sky in the southeast left.
The sky was very dark at the zenith, limiting at 6.3 mag; dark also in the south and southwest, somewhat brighter in the west, moderately bright in the northwest, brightening from north to northeast (Vienna is in the northeast), still bright in the east, darkening to the southeast. In the morning hours the rising Milky Way was only weakly visible against the northeastern and eastern sky.
The landscape horizon is far from ideal at the observing site: some trees low in the north, a hill in the northeast; only in the east there is a deep view down to the horizon; from southeast to south there is an inclining skyline, with a "dip" just before south; due to the south is the Hochstaff mountain (1305m); just beyond south there is another, deeper "dip" in the horizon line; high and nearby trees are blocking the view to the southwest; some trees are in the west and northwest.

Object sequence: I used a list downloaded from the Web, compiled by Hartmut Frommert, based on work of Don Machholz. My own object sequence differs strongly because of the clouds in the first hours of the night and also the unfavourable skyline in the northeast, southeast and south. It may be looking confusing, though. I didn't have a watch handy to log the observing time for each object. I also wasn't well prepared for this marathon, and I had no help. Walter was busy with astrophotography, and took only some looks through the eyepiece. He left in the early morning hours. For the rest of the time (after observing M83) until dawn I was alone.

1

 M35 

also visible NGC2158

2

 M41

3

 M52

4

 M31

5

 M32

6

 M110

7

 M33

8

 M34

9

 M45

also visible Merope Nebula

10

 M103

11

 M76

12

 M42

13

 M43

14

 M93

15

 M46

didn't power up to see NGC2438

16

 M47

also observed NGC2423

17

 M78

18

 M1

19

 M37

20

 M36

also observed NGC1931

21

 M38

also visible NGC1907

22

 M50

23

 M48

24

 M44

also observed Jupiter, fine details at 175x and good seeing moments

25

 M67

26

 M81

also observed NGC3077 and NGC2976

27

 M82

28

 M97

29

 M108

30

 M109

31

 M40

32

 M101

33

 M51

34

 M96

35

 M105

also observed NGC3384

36

 M95

37

 M65

38

 M66

also observed NGC3628

39

 M63

40

 M94

41

 M106

42

 M102

also visible NGC5907

43

 M3

44

 M64

45

 M53

46

 M59

also observed NGC4762 and NGC4754 on the way to M59

47

 M60

also visible NGC4647

48

 M58

49

 M89

50

 M90

51

 M91

52

 M87

53

 M88

54

 M86

also observed 5 galaxies of Markarian's Chain

55

 M84

also visible NGC4388 and some other faint smudges

56

 M99

57

 M98

58

 M100

59

 M85

60

 M61

61

 M49

62

 M104

63

 M13

64

 M92

65

 M5

66

 M68

spotted between treetops

67

 M57

68

 M12

69

 M10

70

 M39

71

 M56

72

 M29

73

 M83

looooong wait for it to clear the treetops

74

 M107

75

 M14

76

 M27

77

 M71

78

 M9 

79

 M11

80

 M26

81

 M80

82

 M4

fished it out between treetops, partly obstructed

83

 M16

84

 M17

85

 M18

86

 M8

87

 M20

88

 M21

89

 M24

90

 M25

91

 M23

92

 M22

93

 M19

94

 M28

fished it out between treetops, partly obstructed

95

 M62

fished it out between treetops, partly obstructed

96

 M15

got it with some luck, shortly afterwards clouds moved in

Missing objects: In the evening sky M74 and M77 were blocked by trees in the west, however, clouds made it even impossible to try some hunting between the trees. M79 would have been possible but was blocked by clouds.
Let's analyze the situation in the morning sky, midways between astronomical and nautical twilight. M6 and M7 were surely blocked from view by the raised landscape horizon in the south. M54, M70 and M69 were also blocked from view, however, they would have been only very low above the horizon. M75, M55 and M30 were definitely below the horizon. M2 was very low in the east, but again clouds moved in shortly after I had spotted M15, so I had no chance to try for M2. M72 and M73 were just about rising at that time.

Summary: A total of 96 Messier objects is not that bad for my first Messier marathon under somewhat restricted conditions. Could I have done better? No, I think not. I got all objects that were possible. But I fell short of 4 objects from my expectation. However, I have seen what a rush it would be to hunt for the last objects against beginning dawn. To observe the objects when they are as high in the sky as possible is one thing. To spot the objects as early as possible, just after climbing above the horizon, is definitely another story.
Additionally I observed some 20 other objects, that were just "in the way" or in near vicinity of Messier targets. I had plenty of time after the Virgo cluster. I could have done many more other observations, but I wanted to save my concentration and energy for the rest of the night.
The southernmost objects on my list were "treetop grazers". I had to wait for them to rise above the landscape horizon. Some I couldn't fetch as early as they got near the "dip" to the east of the Hochstaff mountain. Some I had to fish out between the treetops, some even partly obstructed by trees.

After years of observing, it was my first Messier marathon. It was quite right to bring me back to astronomy after some months of abstinence. And it was fun. I wouldn't have believed it before, but once you've been hit by the bug, you want to try again and do better. So, perhaps I will try another Messier marathon at the next new moon, which will be more favourable for the morning sky objects, but harder for some evening sky objects.

#owdii