How to organize a Messier marathon

The following aspects may be the most important for the success of a Messier marathon:

·       weather conditions during the night

·       the spot you choose for marathoning

·       your optical equipment

·       your personal experience and preparation

·       your team, if any

The weather can not be great enough for the marathon. Since in most parts of German there are only about 10 nights a year ideal for observation, it is not very likely that you will be able to run your Messier marathon on the nights you´ve planned for it. .

Absolutely essential is a suitable, dark spot for observation.You should avoid places of nearby lightpollution caused by roads or villages, so that the objects won't be hidden in the skyglow. Also, the observation spot has to offer you a perfect panoramic view down to the horizon.

The technical equipment is not quite as important. Usually, a suitable pair of binoculars will be fine. Of course, you can also take any kind of telescope along.

The preparation shouldn´t come off badly; participating in a marathon without some preparation can be a frustrating experience. It´s rather a good idea to prepare in adavance by, for example, consulting a turnable starmap or constructing or consulting an observation plan.

Observation is more fun and motivating in a friendly team  than by yourself. An invitation for a Messier marathon is a great idea!

For technical equipmentI suggest the following items:  

  • a powerful binoculars (at least 10x50),which enable you to see many  objects even without a telescope Also, even if you do own a telescope it helps to spot the objects with the binoculars
  • every kind of telescope. In general, you will find that the larger your telescope and the magnification is, the better you will see the objects but it also will be harder to spot them than if you use a smaller telescope. When running a classical Messier marathon you may not really cheat by using equipment that will help you to spot the objects automatically - if you run a "real" marathon you are not allowed to ride a bike either...
  • a map of the stars where you can find all Messier objects that can be seen: a good example is Erich Karkoschka: Atlas für Himmelsbeobachter, Franckh-Kosmos Verlag, but it´s in German language!
  • a rotable atlas of the stars can be usefull as well in order to plan the course of the constellations during the night of the marathon.
  • a list for observation, assembled in the sequence of the appearance of the objects. This list can also be used as your record of observation.

The further equipment is just as important:  

  • A pot of hot coffee or tea for staying awake , a midnight snack and so on
  • warm, clothes in many layers, hat, scarf and mittons because starry nights almost always are getting cold! . 
  • A chair, a blanket, a redlight flashlight with extra batteries and a moblie telephone in case that you need to call for help, particulary when you travel with a small group of people in a loensome area.



All materials by Klaus Schulze-Frerichs, 2001-03
Klaus Schulze-Frerichs:
last revised May, 2007