03/2006 Messier Marathon Print

Below are 2 reports of the Messier Marathon from Killylane Reservoir, Shane's Hill.

Killylane Reservoir

Report by Martin McKenna

Hi all

On Friday 3rd March the EAAS held their Messier Marathon from Killylane Reservoir outside Larne. This was my own first time observing from this new location and the environment left a deep impression on me.

This was a very dark site surrounded by snow coated hills and pine trees and we set up our equipment over looking the frozen lake which made a beautiful scenic location for a nights observing. The night was dry, calm and VERY cold with a clear sky and good trans. The waxing crescent moon with earthshine was a stunning sight in Pisces and I could see its shimmering reflection on the lake itself! There was between 13 - 14 observers in all using a wide range of equipment from cameras, Binoculars, Refractors, SCTs and Reflectors both with and without GO-TO technology.

Kryss with his c11

I used my Meade 8" LX10 deluxe F/6.3 at 49X and upgraded later to a WO 2" Diagonal and Seibert 2" 32mm SWA eyepiece for a wider field.

Band of cloud with moonlight rainbow by Paul Evans

As the sky slowly darkened we spotted a brilliant passage of the ISS silently blaze across the sky passing near Orion’s Belt and skirting the bright star Procyon in Canis Minor. This has to be one of the brightest ISS passages I have ever seen! I got a text message from Kevin Black who was then observing from Belfast informing me that he had observed a beautiful Aurora for 45 mins duration however we could not see anything from here possibly due to the pine trees that blocked the low northern sky...thanks for the text Kevin.

Double Cluster by KryssDouble Cluster by Paul Evans

I then began my own Messier Marathon before twilight ended...

M77 19.30 - Obsv made in twilight, Galaxy located approx 20* SE of Moon. Compact fuzzy spot with brilliant stellar nucleus with sharp edges near a similarly bright field star. Slightly hazy sky illuminated by moonlight. Easy object which I showed to others.

Moon by Neil McKeown

M79 19.35 - Located low in the south in poor trans. A circular fuzzy spot with bright core. No stars resolved within cluster. Shown to other observers.

M41 19.40 - Nice large bright cluster with 2 red stars at centre. Shown to others. Not seen with naked eye due to haze.

M39 - 19.50 - Loose scattered open cluster with white suns. Also seen with naked eye over a distant hill.

M31, M32, M110 19.52 - Beautiful galaxy trio. M31 filled low power field, suspected outer spiral arms and dark dust lanes. Shown to others. Stephen Mc Govern and I agreed that M110 was our favourite. M31 seen with naked eye.

M93 19.55 - Rich open cluster in Puppis. Low in south in haze and poor trans. Member stars seemed clustered towards west.

M42, M43 19.59 - Both nebulae in same FOV. M42 a beautiful blue object with vivid 3D like structure and well defined dark fish mouth. Shown to other observers. Everyone was impressed with this object.

M78 20.00 - Blue wedge shaped puff of mist with 2 bright stars of same mag at centre. Shown to others.

M1 20.02 - Nice object well placed in sky. Definite filament like structure observed . Shown to others.

M76 20.07 - Cousin of infamous M27. Small in size and easy to see in rich star field.

M45 20.30 - Examined at 49X in 8”. Tried for Merope nebula however trans prevented detection. Best seen with 10X50 bin and naked eye.

M37, M36, M38 20.45 - All 3 clusters seen within same field of Conor’s 10X50 bin. Seen M37 + M36 with naked eye. All three observed in 8” with M37 the most spectacular of the trio. Conor also observed M37 through the 8” and was impressed.

M74 20.55 - Moon very close to this object. Was not detectable in 8”. Observed it using Marks Meade 10” Go -To. A VERY difficult object in the bright haze and barely brighter than the back ground sky. Seen using averted version.

M34 20.55 - Weak, spread out open cluster. Unimpressive in 8”. Seen with naked eye and best in binoculars. Also shown to Conor.

M35 21.10 - Very nice, compact rich cluster. NGC companion cluster also observed . Seen with naked eye.

M44 21.10 - Loose concentration of blue stars in 8”. Observed this cluster along with Saturn in same field using Jonathan's 10X50 bin. Looks like large tailless comet with naked eye.

M67 21.12 - Very nice compact dense beautiful open cluster. Best open cluster in cancer and much more spectacular than its famous Beehive cousin to the north.

M33 21.28 - This large low surface brightness could not be seen in 8” due to haze and moon light. Central region observed through Marks 10”. Also seen bright HII region within outer spiral arms.

M52 21.40 - Observed through Stephen Mc Governs 4” Celestron GO-TO refractor. Lovely object in rich Milky way star field. Conor also observed it.

M46, M47 21.40 - Spotted both these open clusters with naked eye as two fuzzy spots side by side through car windscreen while warming up inside!

Total Messier Objects Observer = 26/110

As the body of Leo rose higher into the eastern sky I faintly spotted the Gegenschein as a + 10* oval grey patch of light to the east of Regulus. It was a difficult object due to weak moonlight in the west (16th Observation). I was feeling very sick due to the cold so I spent a little time warming up in the car. I had a good chat with various people about Comets, telescopes and possible life in the Universe then I headed back outside for another session. A very bright blue double flash lit up the entire sky and ground which got every ones attention. I believe this was distant lightning. I saw a nice number of swift meteors and a lovely golden Mag 0 sporadic meteor zip over head. I was about to make a start on the rest of the Messier objects when clouds soon moved in to create overcast conditions followed soon after by snow. We all gathered around and had a great chat waiting for clear skies however the snow got very heavy and so it was decided that we should retire for the night otherwise we would never make it out of here.

The drive home was very scary at time due to low visibility and very heavy snow which rendered even the cats eyes on the road invisible. Overall it was a fantastic night and we are planning a 2nd attempt later in the month and I also hope to observe a number of Meteor showers from this stunning location. Thanks very much to Stephen Mc Govern for the much needed lift!

This is my own personal account of the night and I am sure others will produce there own in the near future.

Clear Skies!

Martin Mc kenna
EAAS Member


Report of Messier Marathon 3rd/4th March 2006
by Mark Stronge


Friday evening began with getting the car packed and wolfing down my tea as I hurried out the door. I had previously charged all my camera batteries and the 2 power packs for the telescopes. I also brought an extension lead for use the car battery if the power packs failed. My equipment list was as follows :

  1. Meade 10inch LX200 Classic SCT
  2. Orion ED80mm APO refractor
  3. Meade 10x50 Binoculars
  4. Canon 300D Digital SLR
  5. Mark 1 Eyeballs :-)

My initial intentions were to photograph each messier object but I did not feel the conditions were good enough for this to be of lasting value so I decided to do some sketches at the eyepiece.

On arriving at Killylane Reservoir at around 7:30pm, there were already a good crowd gathered sky gazing and keeping warm in the freezing conditions. The temperature was a degree and a half below zero so I quickly got into my overalls and put on my fleece, waterproofs, hat and gloves.

M35 by KryssOrion by Paul Evans

I setup the Meade 10inch on the wedge and did quite an accurate polar alignment. the pointing accuracy was excellent and I made sure the dew heater was turned on and also put a dew heater strip around the eyepiece.

My first observation began with M79 in Lepus at 2030ut. I used the 2inch 30mm GTO wide angle eyepiece and observed a diffuse small globular cluster with no discernable stars in the cluster itself.

I continued observing in the order from the Messier Marathon Log sheet. The M74 galaxy was a tiny diffuse core only visible in averted vision. The crescent Moon interfered with the observation of "The Phantom" galaxy but was confirmed later by Starry Night.

M77, observed was a galaxy core with a slight elongation and bright star beside galaxy.

M31 and M32 were in the same FOV and I was very happy with the detail picked up in the structure of M31 itself. It mostly looked like a fuzzy coin shape but there were dust lanes visible. M110 was a diffuse but bright small galaxy in the near field.

M33 was a wide diffuse galaxy but was brighter than previous observations I have made.

M52 was quite a delicate open cluster in Cassiopeia.M103 was a very open cluster with few stars visible.

M42 and M43 were the usual jaw dropping nebulae. There was great contrast in the fish's mouth and the trapezium was clear, even in low power. M42 extended in a semi-circular arc with surprising detail observed in the brighter enclosing arms and background cloud of dust and gas.

M78 looked like a double star with a bit of a glow around one of the stars later confirmed as a bright star beside the compact nebula.

M1, the crab nebula had great contrast and displayed a small amount of detail in the cloud itself. The supernova remnant was bright in the eyepiece and was one of my best observations of this SNR yet.

M37, an open cluster in Auriga was wonderful with very dim resolvable stars.

At this point I took a break, relieved that I had bagged the first lot that were setting in the western sky. My gloves had a couple of small holes and this proved to be to my downfall as my fingers were tingling in the freezing conditions. There was little wind and the night was quite still. The seeing conditions were fairly good but not perfect. The milky way was not particularly obvious and there were low clouds passing occasionally like contrails. The police arrived in a 4x4 and both guys were enthralled with the views of Saturn and the Great Orion Nebula. We all had something to eat and drink and got warmed up in the cars. The transparency had reduced so I began a 2nd session at observing before conditions deteriorated.

M35 was quite a delicate and beautiful open cluster. M41, the little Beehive, was low in the SW and I was fortunate I did not leave this observation much later as Canis Major was very low in the sky.

I continued the observing with M50, M93, M46, M47, M48, M67, and M44, the Beehive which was visible naked eye and I definitely got the best view through my 10x50s. By this stage the conditions were worsening and the snow began to fall. I covered the front of the scope and eyepiece and hoped that it was just a flurry. The snow fell thick and fast and the scope was turning white. After 20 minutes the snow stopped but about an inch of snow was lying on the ground. The reservoir was already frozen and the snow turned it completely white. There was only a few breaks in t he cloud here and there so those who were left chatted for around an hour and when the 2nd snowfall started we called it a night. Martin had not been feeling well either so it was better to get home before the roads became impassable.

Before the snow came we had a great evening of observing with sparkling clear skies and most members averaged around 20-30 messier objects viewed which was a fairly reasonable night's observing.

On the way home from Killylane, the snow was heavy but as I approached Belfast the snow disappeared and the skies were clear. I stopped about ½ mile from my home in Shrigley, Killyleagh on some waste land and was treated to 3 fantastic meteors in the space of a couple of minutes. The 3 meteors were all uniquely different. One was long and slow covering around 40 degrees of sky, the other was short and faint and the last was of medium speed and length at around Mag 1.5. Seeing this many was quite unusual for this time of year so I got into the car and got out the Messier Marathon Log sheets and rise and set times - if I was going to do this I wanted to be sure I didn't miss any. I walked round the site and picked a location for the telescope. In about 20 minutes I had the telescope setup again and continued the Messier Marathon!!

My first observation was at 0236ut of M96 and then M95 as a passing cloud obscured M95 for a brief minute and then I was able to see the 2 together in the same FOV. I moved quickly on to M105 which just looked like a fuzzy star - boy, this is a bit boring, I hope things get more interesting !

M65 and M66 were next, part of the Leo triplet of galaxies. The next pair of galaxies were M81 (Bode's Galaxy) and M82 (Cigar Galaxy) which were much more interesting and displayed visual details, especially the dark rift through M82 and some brighter circular areas around the rift. M108 looked like an edge on galaxy much like M82 but dimmer and M97, the Owl Nebula was visible in the same FOV. This was a lovely selection of paired galaxies.

Next came M51, the Whirlpool Galaxy. I decided at this point to try out some different eyepieces as I had been using the GTO Proxima 32mm UWA. I tried out the 26mm Meade plossl which was excellent with a good dark background but then I tried the 14mm Meade UWA heavyweight. While the brightness of M51 was reduced slightly compared with the 26mm, I could make out the brighter stars within the arms of the galaxy even though the arms themselves were very diffuse. I put this down to sky conditions but continued the Messier Marathon using the 14mm UWA. Next up were M109 galaxy, M40 double star???, M101 the Pinwheel galaxy which has an estimated 1 trillion stars including the tiny galaxies around it in the latest Hubble image mosaic - M101 was very large and diffuse but no spiral arms were visible. I took a break again and got warmed up in the car for a few minutes and had a hot cup of coffee and some sandwiches.

Next up, M102 was much like the cigar and a bit like the sombrero galaxy as it was elongated and had a dark lane down the length of it. I had not noticed this in previous observations so I was happy to see that the conditions were staying fairly good.

The Sombrero Galaxy was excellent eye candy. M104 displayed it's bulbous centre and dark lane though this was not as good seeing conditions as was from Slieve Croob 2 years ago and left me wanting more. I finished the first page of Messier targets and looked forward to some of the globular clusters which should still look great under less than perfect seeing.

Next up, M63, M94, M106. M3 was just beautiful and I could resolve stars to the core easily. I have found globular clusters to be wondrous objects for visual observing. M53 was a fainter GC but I could just resolve the core stars with averted vision.

Next up, some faint fuzzies. M64, M85, M60, M59, M58, M89 and the barely visible M90. Then M91, M88, M87 which was quite small and fuzzy. Then on to M86, M84, M99 and M98 galaxy which I could see was elongated in shape but nothing more revealed itself.

Now onto M100, M49, M61, M68 which was a very difficult target in Hydra and M83.

After the more difficult galaxies, the next target was M13 and the Hercules cluster did not disappoint. Stars resolved to the core easily and the depth of stars was a beautiful sight. M92 was next and it was equally as beautiful but slightly dimmer and a forgotten gem in the constellation of Hercules. M5 was next and again I was lapping up these wonderful globulars like a cat likes cream!

M57, the Ring Nebula was great though I have not yet observed the central star visually. Then on to a few easy GCs; M12, M10, M107, M80, M56, M4 which I observed through trees, M29 an OC, M14 of which I could not resolve any stars, M9, and M71. These GCs are just great!

The Dumbbell Nebula M27 was wonderful and I could see many of the stars within the nebula - another great view I pondered over.

Now, I'm on the home straight. I could see the sky just starting to brighten now as the time was 5am. I moved on to M62 but I couldn't see it. I quickly went to M19 which I views through trees. M11 was an unexpected treat of an open cluster and had wonderful structure to it. M39 I observed NE and was great with the binoculars. Seeing the sky starting to change, I moved on to M26, M16 and M17 Omega nebula which looked like a bright, fairly sharp-edged cylinder. Now some OCs; M18, M24, M23, M25, M8, M20 nebula, M21, and M15. 96 objects down, could I equal or better my previous record?

I took another break. The sub-zero temperatures were tough and I only had my own enthusiasm to keep me going. I took another cup of coffee and a few biscuits and walked about for a while waiting for the Earth to rotate some more.

I vainly searched for M22, M28 and M62 but the view was blocked by the horizon. I settled on looking in the area of M62 and waited patiently as the skies brightened and my hopes faded. As M62 rose out of the trees I got a short view of the core and moved on to M22. M22 was slightly brighter than M28 and both were around the same elevation behind a hill. My final observation was of the core of M22 at 0602ut. M28 was above the hill now but the sky was just too bright to see it.

As the dawn sky crept nearer, I decided to have a look at that bright thing in the low southern sky - oh! hello Jupiter, where have you been these past 2 years? I could see the moons strung out, 1 on the left and 3 on the right with the great red spot prominent on the southern equatorial belt. I knew that Venus would be up shortly but it was behind a tree so I thought I would just wait for a few minutes since I have spent the night outside I may as well have a look. I watched the crescent phase of Venus rise over a hill - it was a wonderful sight. Venus was boiling in the atmosphere and had a distinct yellow tinge towards the eastern limb.

The time was approaching 0630ut and I began packing up the scope. Just at that point, a car pulled into the waste ground and a man got out. he was an elderly gentleman and we got chatting - he was most surprised to find me there. I showed him Venus and Jupiter and he was most impressed as he had been discussing what these bright stars were in the sky with his wife. He was quite surprised at the views of these "stars" through the telescope and went on his way to nearby kennels to take his dog for a walk!

On looking back on the night, I feel more confident now in observing and studying DSOs and I was glad that I reacquainted myself with the many delights of the Messier catalogue. It is so easy to forget some of these astronomical wonders of the night sky that it has prompted me to try and photographically capture them at my next messier marathon.

Clear Skies


Mark Stronge

You can download a copy of my 3rd March 2006 Messier Log Sheet as a PDF file.


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