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 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:
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)
My own Messier Marathons:
- February 13-14, 2010 (98 objects; off season)
- April 1-2, 2011 (80 objects; clouded out)
- April 29-30, 2011 (103 objects; off season)
- March 9-10, 2013 (108 objects)
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.