How to organize a Messier marathon



The followong points are most important for the success of a Messier marathon:

·         the weather

·         the spot you choose for marathoning

·         the optical equipment

·         the preparation

·         the team

The weather can not be great enough for the marathon. Since in most parts of German there are only about 10 nights a year ideal for observation, it is not very likely that you will be able to run your Messier marathon on the nights you´ve planned for it. .

Absolutely essential is a suitable, dark spot for observation.You should avoid places of nearby lightpollution caused by roads or villages, so that the objects won't be hidden in the skyglow. Also, the observation spot has to offer you a perfect panoramic view down to the horizon.

Die technical equipment is not quite as important. Usually, a suitable pair of binoculars will be fine. Of course, you can also take any kind of telescope along.

The preparation shouldn´t come off badly; participating in a marathon without some preparation can be a frustrating experience. It´s rather a good idea to prepare in adavance by, for example, consulting a turnable starmap or constructing or consulting an observation plan.

Observation is more fun and motivating in a friendly team  than by yourself. An invitation  for a Messier marathon is a great idea!

The phases of the moon determine the date of the marathon: in 2001

: In 2001 March 20th through 27th are idealr as there will be no moonlight disturbing you. Most people will probably find the weekend (24th/25th of March) most suitable. besYou can gze all night, interrupting with a short break right after midnight.

For technical equipmentI suggest the following items:  

  • a powerful binoculars (at least 10x50),which enable you to see many  objects even without a telescope Also, even if you do own a telescope it helps to spot the objects with the binoculars
  • every kind of telescope. In general, you will find that the larger your telescope and the magnification is, the better you will see the objects but it also will be harder to spot them than if you use a smaller telescope. When running a classical Messier marathon you may not really cheat by using equipment that will help you to spot the objects automatically - if you run a "real" marathon you are not allowed to ride a bike either...
  • a map of the stars where you can find all Messier objects that can be seen: a good example is Erich Karkoschka: Atlas für Himmelsbeobachter, Franckh-Kosmos Verlag, but it´s in German language!
  • a rotable atlas of the stars can be usefull as well in order to plan the course of the constellations during the night of the marathon.
  • a list for observation, assembled in the sequence of the appearance of the objects. This list can also be used as your record of observation.

The further equipment is just as important:  

  • A pot of hot coffee or tea for staying awake , a midnight snack and so on
  • warm, clothes in many layers, hat, scarf and mittons because starry nights almost always are getting cold! . 
  • A chair, a blanket, a redlight flashlight with extra batteries and a moblie telephone in case that you need to call for help, particulary when you travel with a small group of people in a loensome area. E





All materials by Klaus Schulze-Frerichs, 2001
Klaus Schulze-Frerichs:
last revisited January, 2002