Do a Messier the Fall!

By Ed Ting Updated 10/2/08

During the new moon in March, it is possible to view all 110 Messier objects, if you stay up from dusk to dawn in one long, "Marathon" session. However, you can run a Messier Marathon any time of the year. From most northern latitudes, it's possible to see 90, 95, or even 100 objects at almost any time. The fall is an especially attractive time because the weather is usually nice - too cold for bugs, but not so cold that you freeze during the night. Like many of you, I've contemplated doing a Fall Messier Marathon, but have never done it. Likewise, many sources, both in print and online, make reference to Fall MMs. I was recently asked to do a presentation to my club on running a Fall MM (I have somehow become the club's unwitting "expert" on Messier Marathons.) I figured this would be easy. Take my usual Messier Marathon presentation, "shift" it by six hours, and I'd be done. I thought it would take me about an hour. It took me nearly three weeks. It turns out there are some considerations I hadn't thought of. For one, the search sequence is off (naturally) but a couple of objects (like M4 and M80) are probably lost in the setting sun. Also, since the sun is in or near Virgo, it may not be possible to see the Virgo Cluster (I can hear some of you cheering already.) The earlier you do the Fall MM, the worse the chance you have of seeing any of the Virgo Cluster. Finally, looking online and elsewhere, I cannot find any reference to a viable search sequence. I'd have to come up with my own. Using Harvard Pennington's excellent book as a guide, I have come up with what I believe to be a usable search sequence. (Thanks to SEDS for the format) I did stray a bit from Pennington's recommendations. I moved up some of the Ursa Major objects, since the handle of the Big Dipper is pointing downwards and setting fast. I am always interested in making these presentations and documents better. If you have any suggestions (especially to the search sequence, which is still untried as of this writing) please let me know! Also, I am starting to make my Powerpoint presentations available to the public. Here is the link to my Christa McAuliffe Planetarium presentation on Oct 17th. It is a bit "New England-centric" but you can use it as a guideline for your own presentations. Thanks, and good luck! -Ed
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