Messier Marathoners: If not already done so,
please email us your
THE MESSIER MARATHON
Messier Marathon is a term describing the attempt to find as many Messier
objects as possible in one night. Depending on the location of the observer,
and season, there is a different number of them visible, as they are not evenly
distributed in the celestial sphere. There are heavily crowded regions in the
sky, especially the Virgo Cluster and the
region around the Galactic Center, while
other regions are virtually empty of them. In particular, there are no Messier
objects at all at Right Ascensions 21:40 to 23:20, and only the very northern
M52 is between RA 21:40 and 0:40.
This chance effect leads, at considerably low northern latitudes on Earth (best
around 25 degrees North), to the chance to observe all Messier objects in one
night ! This opportunity occurs once every year, around mid- to end-March; the
best time to try is of course when the Moon is near its new phase.
For the upcoming years until 2019, we give
Messier Marathon was invented independently by several North American and
perhaps one Spanish amateur astronomers and groups, in the 1970s. It was
probably first in the night of March 23/24 that Gerry Rattley from Dugas,
Arizona, completed the list and hunted down all 110 Messier objects in one
night. This is however possible only under exceptionally good observing
conditions, and at a preferred location.
Anyway, some Messier Marathon tips may help to
be [even] more successful with this endeavor, i.e., see one of a few
The Messier Marathon history can be found in Don Machholz‘s booklet,
The Messier Marathon Observer’s Guide, which moreover gives a most
useful proposition for the search sequence.
It also points out that less complete Messier Marathons may be run at every
time in the year, the percentage depending on location and time.
Southerners may prefer other marathons. For the time around September each
year, there is another 110-object marathon for mid-northern observers, the
Messier Plus Marathon (compiled by
Wally Brown and Bob Buckner). Experienced observers have compiled more
massive lists for marathoning up to over 500 objects a night; Don Machholz
reports that he hunted down 599 deep-sky splendors in one night !
Since their invention, Messier Marathons had to face some opposition.
As Don Machholz points out, the major complaint is that “rushing through a
Messier [or other] list does not allow to study each” object seriously.
However, as nothing prevents you from returning to them, and studying them
with more time, in other nights, “such criticism can be ignored, since the
Messier Marathon is not designed for everyone. The critic can spend the
night looking at a shorter list of wonders. A counterpoint to this
resistance is that the Marathoner will see nearly all the Messier
Catalogue in one night — many amateur astronomers [and even more
professionals, believe me – hf :-)] never see the whole catalogue in their
whole lifetime. Additionally, one’s searching and locating skills,
necessary in most aspects of astronomy, are sharpened during the Marathon.
The benefit of seeing, in one night, the major building blocks of our
Galaxy: open and globular clusters, diffuse and planetary nebulae, along
with other galaxies, cannot be ignored. Finally, there is a satisfaction
of working with others toward a common goal, and then finally achieving it
Rumours say that there are some hardliners who feel the same satisfaction when
they do it alone..
Marathons are of course enriched if other appealing celestial events can fill in
the pauses which normally occur if you have hunted down everything you can at a
time, and wait for the morning objects to rise. In 1997, the outstanding
naked-eye comet Hale-Bopp (C/1995O1) gave an extraordinary spectacle exactly at
Messier Marathon time in March and April, to celebrate the Messier Marathon’s
20th birthday, similar to 1996’s Hyakutake (C/1996B2).
In 1998, there was no such bright comet, but a considerable supernova,
in NGC 3877
(in Ursa Major), had timely occured and brightened up to 12th magnitude
to enrich the Messier Marathon.
We don’t know in advance what extras will give future Messier Marathons
additional value, but intend to provide the relevant information here as
soon as it is available. Check for more info on
the upcoming Messier Marathon 2000.
Another common extension of the Messier Marathon is to add a solar system
marathon, i.e. to try to observe as many of the 8 planets besides Earth
during the Messier Marathon night (1999 had the opportunity to find all
There have been several propositions to make the Messier Marathon more
challenging for those who do it repeated times. An interesting proposition
was brought to my attention by Tom Hoffelder one of the Messier Marathon
inventors. He points out that he and his friend Greg Zentz, who has also
completed a number of Marathons, came up with the idea of doing it completely
from memory. This would mean no star charts or notes of any kind, only a list
of the objects in order of search. They are thinking of trying it and calling
it “M cubed” (Messier Memory Marathon).
Here are the links to the Messier Marathon Search Sequence List in various
formats, the sequence taken from Don Machholz’s book
The Messier Marathon Observer’s Guide.
Select the form you would like to view this list:
- Messier Marathon Search Sequence List:
in text mode
- Messier Marathon Search Sequence with Data
[ascii; also available with
Steven O’Meara’s data instead of ours]
- Messier Marathon Search Sequence Short Sheet
- Messier Marathon Form (ascii): Just fill in your
Slightly different sequences and other Messier Marathon related stuff have
been published in recent years:
- A slightly different sequence was printed in the March 1994 issue of
Astronomy magazine and is
- Dawn Jenkins has made
how to hold a Messier marathon, and provided her own
as part of her general
- David Levy, in his book
also gives a slightly different sequence (which he quotes to Don Machholz
and John Kerns);
p. 222-225 of his book contain this list together with his 1983 results.
- Dave Nash has published
tips for holding Messier Marathons
Tips on Participating in the Messier Marathonby John Barra
Dirk Panczyk’s German language Messier Marathon page
We collect actual Messier Marathon
Please notify me if you’d like to have
your result/score/report/link to be added !
If you have observed all Messier objects, even not in one night all
together, we encourage you to announce this fact on your hompage in the web.
You are then granted the right to use a
all 110 Messier objects.
The Messier Marathon Homepage has been selected as the
San Antonio Astronomy Association – Site of the Week of March 7, 1997
Last Modification: 3 Mar 1999, 12:00 MET