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Messier marathon season: binocular highlight.

Every spring, the Sun's journey along the ecliptic returns it to a Messier-free zone near the border between Pisces and Aquarius. During that brief period, it's possible to log all 109 objects in the Messier catalog in a single night. The key word here is possible--actually accomplishing that goal is difficult. Invariably, marathoners fight to claim globular cluster M30 before it sets during evening twilight, and to glimpse galaxy M74's faint glow before it's overwhelmed by predawn light. But for binocular observers, these are just two among many significant challenges.

Even without the pressures and fatigue that accompany a marathon session, tracking down all the Messiers in regular binoculars will test your abilities. To have a fighting chance, use binos that magnify at least 10x, and are either image-stabilized or mounted in some fashion. Good, detailed charts are also a must--the Pocket Sky Atlas is particularly well suited to the task.

In my non-marathon, binocular Messier survey, I was able to observe every object but one: galaxy M91. Try as I might, this 10.4-magnitude puff ball eluded me. And M91 is by no means the only tough target. As I noted in the October 2012 issue (page 68), the list of challenging Messiers is long even under ideal conditions. Fortunately, M91 and the swarm of similar galaxies west of Epsilon ([epsilon]) Virginis are well placed during marathon season. If you're able to make good headway here, your tally at the end of the night will be pretty impressive.

This year's prime marathon weekends begin on March 9th and 16th. How many Messiers will you see? For observers working under decent skies, it should be possible to log more than half the catalog, and perhaps significantly more. The fun, though, is in the challenge--the results are secondary.

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Title Annotation:Binocular Highlight
Author:Seronik, Gary
Publication:Sky & Telescope
Article Type:Brief article
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Mar 1, 2013
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