Searching for Messier Objects

By David Baumgartner
Astronomer Charles Messier (1730
– 1817) devoted much of his life searching the heavens for
comets. In doing so he would come across many objects that at first
he thought were comets. What they did turn out to be were
stationary objects such as nebulas, galaxies, clusters and double
stars. His love was finding comets and naming t
hem after himself.
By David Baumgartner

Astronomer Charles Messier (1730 – 1817) devoted much of his life searching the heavens for comets. In doing so he would come across many objects that at first he thought were comets. What they did turn out to be were stationary objects such as nebulas, galaxies, clusters and double stars. His love was finding comets and naming them after himself.

He had less interest in these other confusing objects that would just get in his way.

So he published his findings so that other astronomers wouldn’t have to go through what he did when searching for comets.

He started out with some 45 objects and they came to be called “The Messier Objects.” It was odd that he would later become more famous for his Messier Objects than for his comet findings. As time went on, future astronomers added others to the list, until today we have a total of 110. (Actually there are 109, one was duplicated) Many of these deep – sky – objects can be seen with binoculars or small telescopes.

Two centuries later, backyard observers still consider many of these splendid “M” objects the jewels of the night sky.

Each month, as the skies slowly change, new objects show up until by the end of the year you have seen them all. But there is one way you can see them all in one long evening.

Each spring amateur astronomers around the world run a Messier Marchathon.

A visual race through the night sky to get a glimpse of all the 109 Messier objects in a single night, from dusk to dawn. If you are lucky enough to catch 50 to 70, consider that a good night.

The key here, of course, is getting away from the city lights; you will need all the darkness you can muster.

But that doesn’t mean you can’t be successful from your own back yard. Plus that makes it nice to know that your own warm bed is only a few steps away should you decide to give it up early.

In our area, we are lucky to have the South San Benito County. What a wonderful place to see these great wonders.

But you just can’t stop wherever you want to and set up your gear, you need to know someone who lives in that area and would be nice enough to let you use a small patch of his dirt one night for about 12 hours. And that best night this year would be around the 10th of March. No moon to get in the way. (New Moon)

It just so happens that I have a friend who has property down in South County and is nice enough to let us use a small portion of it every now and then to stargaze.

He really appreciates the fact that we do clean up after ourselves when we are through. A number of us have gone down to his beautiful spot to do some stargazing, and what a beautiful location to view the wonders of the heavens.

We see at least three times the amount of stars we would have seen from the city of Hollister. It makes it a lot easier to pick up more of the difficult to locate Messier objects.

We plan to go down on the 11th, weather permitting, and see if we can survive the annual nightlong Marchathon.

If anyone is interested in going with us, just give me a call at (831) 637 – 1148. Leave your name and number, and I will get back to you. We do have room for a few more rough and eager would – be amateur astronomers who think they can deal with the elements and lack of sleep. If you can’t make it, I hope you can have your own Marchathon in your back yard.

Don’t forget to invite some of your friends over and see how long they can last.

If you do give it a try, be sure to be well – equipped, with such items as warm clothing, binoculars, a telescope if you have one, star charts, red flashlight, chair, table, maybe a sleeping bag and for heaven’s sake, don’t forget some good munchies, and some hot coffee or chocolate, especially if you come with us.

For a couple of the guys, munchies are the main reason they even go with me on this Marchathon.

The Messier Marchathon is an athletic event of sorts: Participants race around the sky like maniacs for a whole night only to end up where they started.

The Messier Marchathon does prove something very important though: Astronomy is fun, especially with munchies.

Clear skies.

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