[AZ-Observing] Moonlit Messier/Solar System Marathon

  • From: Tom Polakis <tpolakis@xxxxxxx>
  • To: az-observing@xxxxxxxxxxxxx
  • Date: Sun, 28 Mar 2004 21:18:53

Last night (Saturday, March 27), Bernie, Jennifer, and I showed up at
Vekol.  Bernie brought his 12.5-inch, and I brought my 20-inch.  After a
full night of observing, we had observed all nine planets and all 110
Messier objects.  It wasn't as easy as I thought it was going to be.

At sunset, a First Quarter moon stood only 15 degrees from the zenith.  It
wouldn't set until 1:30 the next morning, and it would make a few
observations difficult.  The first of these was M74.  Being right in the
middle of the observing window, M74 was placed high enough to be seen
against a reasonably dark sky.  But the moon was lighting up the entire
sky, and M74 was not trivial.  Two more of the early evening Messier
objects required some work.  Of the two companions to the Andromeda galaxy,
M110 is certainly the more difficult, and it took every observing technique
to pull it out.  Due to its low surface brightness, M33 was a difficult find.

We breathed a sigh of relief after spotting these Messier objects low in
the west until Bernie noticed that M1 was only 6 degrees from the moon.  It
took ten minutes of sweeping before picking it up.  This view was worse
than what we get from town.  The only other objects near the moon were the
clusters in Auriga and Gemini, and they were swept up easily.

After a nap, it was time to get back to the Solar System marathon.  Pluto
was an easy find in Serpens Cauda thanks to a large-scale chart on the
laptop nearby.  Residing in Capricornus, Neptune would not become available
until we had seen all of the Messier objects but M30.  We pulled in
Neptune's 8th-magnitude disc easily, although all of the comparison stars
were equally large discs at this low altitude.

We completed the last Messier marathon object without fanfare, as both of
us have had perfect scores in past marathons.  The real challenge object
was going to be Uranus, which was even lower than M30 in the morning
twilight.  After much flailing on my part, Bernie moved the 20-inch over to
a recognizable star pattern with the extra 6th-magnitude star.

The phase of the moon for next year's optimal Messier marathon Saturday
(March 26) will be only one day past Full.  Can all 110 Messier objects be
seen under the light of a Full Moon?

Tom

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