March 30, 2020

Astro-Vid Of the Week: An Online Messier Marathon

On your marks, get set, Messier Marathon!

‘Tis the season when it’s possible to hunt down all the 110 of the deep sky objects in Messier’s famous deep sky catalog in one night. We recently wrote about the potential for carrying out this feat of astronomical observation for 2014. Now, our good friends at the Virtual Telescope Project are taking the challenge to the web, with their 6th edition of the Online Messier Marathon. The action starts on April 1st at 18:00 UT/ 2:00 PM EDT. The event kicks off Global Astronomy Month 2014, and will be hosted by our good friend Gianluca Masi in conjunction with Astronomers Without Borders:

This year’s event can be followed live on the Virtual Telescope Project’s WebTV broadcast.

It’s a challenge to nab the entire catalog in one season, even under the best of circumstances. The challenge is also latitude dependent, as Messier observed from Paris and missed much of the celestial wonders of the deep southern hemisphere. The event only works right around the New Moon weekend closest to the March equinox because there are no Messier objects between Right Ascension 21 Hours 40 Minutes and 23 Hours 20 minutes, and only one (The galaxy Messier 52) up to Right Ascension 0 Hours 40 minutes, position the Sun currently occupies.

Messier’s catalog was the first enduring list of deep sky objects, and contains a grab bag mix of clusters, nebulae, galaxies as well as at least one erroneous entry (Messier 102) and a double star (Messier 40).

To run an online Messier Marathon is a tricky affair, requiring the positioning of scopes at different longitudes or the noble efforts of one dedicated observer throughout the entire evening.

Good luck to the folks over at the Virtual Telescope Project… we’ll be tuning in!

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