The Messier Marathon

Messier Marathoners: If not already done so,

please email us your

Messier Marathon results!


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

best Messier Marathon dates here.

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

objects more.

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

[hopefully !].”

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,

SN 1998S

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).

Messier Marathon Search Sequence

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:

Slightly different sequences and other Messier Marathon related stuff have

been published in recent years:

We collect actual Messier Marathon

observer’s results !

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

specific logo certifying that you have observed

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

Hartmut Frommert

([email protected])

Christine Kronberg

([email protected])





Last Modification: 3 Mar 1999, 12:00 MET

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