Messier Marathon tools


The mother of all Messier Marathon pages, with plenty of marathon history, search sequences, favorable dates, links and more, is here.

Amazingly, some people run the M-Cubed: the Messier Marathon from Memory. No maps, no charts, just you, your instrument, and a checklist. Stephen Saber takes it a step further and dispenses with the checklist: not only do you have to remember the locations of all of the Messier objects, but also the search sequence and the identities of all 110 objects. He writes, “I have used this technique to manually hunt and observe all 110 Messiers from Arizona, and 109 on four occasions from 41°N latitude without the aid of starcharts, notes, or red light. Very liberating.” His thoughts on the M-Cubed, and his search sequence, are here.


If you are looking for a good observing guide to the Messier objects, or if you’re even thinking about thinking about running a Messier Marathon (and you should be), I can’t recommend Harvard Pennington’s Year-Round Messier Marathon Field Guide highly enough. It has a lot of useful tips for anyone getting started in deep sky observing, even if you just got your telescope today.

I also recommend the only other book specifically about Messier Marathons: Don Machholz’s The Observing Guide to the Messier Marathon: A Handbook and Atlas. Machholz was one of the independent inventors of the Messier Marathon, and his book is packed with loads of data and helpful insights.

Both books are top notch, and they have complimentary strengths; I’ll probably get around to thoroughly reviewing both of them one of these days.


I found this all-sky map showing the positions of the Messier objects (except the contentious M102) here on Wikimedia Commons.

I liked it so much that I put it into an 11×17 PDF file to print and use as a guide and visual checklist on marathon night. I printed mine online through Fedex Office, in color, and picked it up at the local store the next day, for a buck and a half. Here’s the file:

Messier chart to print

For detailed charts for finding all of the Messier objects, see either of the books mentioned above, or any good general star atlas; Sky & Telescope’s Pocket Sky Atlas is my personal favorite.

Logbook and Checklists

I made up a 21-page logbook for the AL Messier Club that follows the object sequence from The Year-Round Messier Marathon Field Guide. Frankly, it is way too cumbersome to use during an actual marathon. If you’re doing the list in one night, you only need to write the location, date, and sky conditions once, not 110 times. You may still find the logbook useful for a more relaxed tour of the Messier objects for AL credit; the file is here:

Messier Logbook (21 page version)

For Marathon night, I made a much-streamlined, 4-page checklist that still allows you to record plenty of information. Please be aware that the AL does NOT accept marathon observations for the Messier Club. However, recording your observations helps you see more, gives you a useful baseline for comparison later, and most importantly gives you a tangible memento of your marathon. Here’s the file:

Messier Marathon Checklist (4 page version)

Then I decided that even that was too much for some nights. If you just want to check off each object and perhaps note the time, here’s a one-page checklist, again with the objects in Field Guide sequence:

Messier checklist Pennington order (1 page version)

Observing Reports

My own Messier Marathons:


Finally, if you need some inspiration, remember that people have observed all 110 Messiers with instruments as small as 7×50 binoculars. Jay Reynolds Freeman has completed the Messier list at least twice with 50mm binoculars and with telescopes ranging from 55mm to 360mm. His thoughts on the joy and challenge of observing the Messiers with instruments of all sizes are well worth reading.

UPDATE March 10, 2013–I just realized that a bunch of links on this page were out of date. In particular, the SEDS Messier Marathon page, Jay Reynolds Freeman, and Stephen Saber all migrated to new URLs while I was not looking! As far as I can tell, everything is fixed now, but please do leave a comment if you find any broken links.


  1. […] The printable version of this chart is now on the “Messier Marathon tools” page on the sidebar, along with a streamlined checklist for marathon night and other […]

  2. […] Sky Atlas. To keep track of what I had seen, I used a one-page checklist and a map (both available here), noting the time of each observation and the instrument used (B or T) on the checklist and […]

  3. […] Saturday night London and I went camping at the Salton Sea, and I took another stab at a Messier Marathon. […]

  4. […] be clear, I had no intention of attempting an off-season or mini Messier Marathon. I decided to just go until I got tired. I also was not a purist – I looked at plenty of […]

  5. […] For more about Messier Marathons, including log sheets, links, and observing reports from previous marathons, see this page. […]

  6. […] that’s why I like the Astronomical League’s observing programs so much, and why I dig Messier Marathons: both activities give me some much-needed […]

  7. […] smoothly was 104 Messiers. Still, I figured what the heck, I’d done my first three marathons (linked here) without getting that many, and there was no shame in ending over 100, especially if I had an […]

  8. […] share of my Messier observations have been made in the spring, in preparation for or during a Messier Marathon. It would be nice to reacquaint myself with those objects at a different time of […]

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