12 March 2010


In the month of March, amateur astronomers across the globe participate in a marathon famously known as Messier Marathon. The goal is to observe all the objects from the Messier Catalog in a single night. The marathon started in the 70's is becoming more and more popular as the years pass by.

In March, apart from Sun reaching the equinox, it is also a good time to observe the full catalog as the Sun will be in a region where there no Messier objects. In months apart from March many Messier objects will be hidden behind the glare of the Sun.

Messier objects are bright enough to be covered by a good pair of binoculars these days. Telescope show the objects in their full glory. Telescope with a six inch objective is sufficient to show the objects in some detail, bigger the diameter of the objective more the light gathering power it has, and this results in showing grater details.

Keep a log book and write down the objects M number / name, optical aid used like telescopes, binoculars or naked eye. In case of telescopes and binoculars mention the magnification used. Take down the time of observation in UT.

Messier catalog is available on the net, get a copy and take a print out and also star maps of the region. If you are using Laptop, planetarium software like Stellarium or Cartes du Ciel will be really helpful.

The catalog consists of 110 celestial objects compiled by French astronomer Charles Messier (1730 – 1817), the catalog is named Messier catalog in his honor.

Moonless nights are the best to observe celestial objects and this month 15th is a New moon, so weekend observation on 13th will be a good choice.

Just after the Sunset in the fading twilight, the marathon begins. First objects to be covered are the ones that will set soon. M74 a galaxy in the Pisces constellation is the first object, the object lies just one degree north east of eta Piscium.

M77 can be covered next, this again is a galaxy in the constellation of Cetus. The galaxy lies close to delta Ceti, just a degree towards east.

Then M33, galaxy in Triangulum constellation. The galaxy also know as Pinwheel Galaxy, best seen under dark skies and with low magnification. Binoculars are best for this one.

Andromeda galaxy is next in the list, M31, as its numbered is accompanied by M32 and M110. Andromeda galaxy can be seen as a hazy patch with naked eyes, an easy object to find and observe.

M76, also known as Little Dumbbell Nebula or Cork Nebula, is the first nebula in the list so far. This Planetary nebula is in the constellation of Perseus. It can be found three degrees north of 51 Andromeda .

First star cluster in the marathon list so far is M34 in the constellation of Perseus. The cluster lies around 5 degrees north east from pi Persei.

Next target would be open clusters M52 and M103 in the constellation of Cassiopeia. M103 can be found 1 degree north east of delta Cassiopeiae. M52 is 6 degrees from beta Cassiopeiae towards the horizon.

Now comes the most celebrated open cluster, the Pleiades star cluster, M45. This is a wonderful cluster for the naked eye, binoculars and wide angle telescopes. This lies in the constellation of Taurus.

One naked eye galaxy, one naked eye cluster was covered in the list, now its time for a naked eye nebula. In the constellation of Orion lies M42, the colorful Orion nebula, one the favorite object of amateur observers and astrophotographers. North west of the Orion nebula is M43 separated by a dark lane from M42.

Staying in the constellation of Orion, two degrees north east of zeta Orionis lies M78 nebula.

In the constellation of Lepus, lies the first Globular cluster in the list so far. M79, lies at three degrees south straight in line with beat Lepus.

In 1054 AD, Chinese astronomers observed a bright new star in the constellation of Taurus and documented it. It is now known that it was a supernova explosion, cataclysmic death of a star. It is M1 in Messier's catalog and is commonly known as Crab nebula. It lies little more than a degree, north west of zeta Tauri.

In the constellation of Auriga, there Messier objects can be covered, M36, M37 and M38. All three are open clusters.

M35, a wonderful open cluster is in the constellation of Gemini. M35 can be found two degrees NW of eta Geminorum.

Four degrees south of the brightest star in the night sky, Sirius, in the constellation of Canis Major open cluster M41 can be found.

In the constellation of Puppis Messier objects M46, M47 and M93 can be found. Again all are open clusters.

M50 in Monosores is the next target. This open cluster can be found 4 degrees NE of theta Canis Majoris. An Easy target for binoculars.

M44 or Beehive cluster as its well known is visible to naked eye as a hazy patch in the constellation of Cancer. Open cluster M67 is also in the same constellation.

In Hydra again an open cluster M48 and also Globular cluster M68 and spiral galaxy M83 can be found.

Now the constellation of the Leo, there are 5 Messier objects, all of them Galaxies. M65, M66, M95, M96 and M105. When observing M65 and M66 in the same field, there one more galaxy seen in the same field, NGC 3628. These three galaxies together is called Leo Triplets.

Ursa Major contains M81, M82, M 101, M108 and M109. These are all galaxies. It also has M40 a double star. This constellation contains M97, a Planetary Nebula more commonly known as the Owl Nebula.

Continuing to cover galaxies in the list, Constellation Virgo offers large number of galaxies. It contains M49, M58, M59, M60, M61, M84, M86, M 87, M89, M90, M104. Good sky chart will help in identifying the galaxies.

North of constellation Virgo is the constellation of Coma Berenices. It contains the globular cluster M53, galaxies M64, M85, M88, M91, M98, M99 and M100

Canes Venatici a small constellation in the north, has some interesting objects to offer. Globular cluster M3, galaxies M106, M94, M63, M51 can be found in this constellation.

Constellation of Serpens and Ophiuchus consists of mostly Globular clusters. M5, M107, M12,M10, M14, M9, M19 and M62. The famous Eagle Nebula, M16, can be found in Serpens Cauda.

North of Ophiuchus is the constellation of Hercules. Globular clusters M13 and M92 can be found here.

Constellation Draco, the northern constellation, contains galaxy 102.

Towards east of Hercules, the constellation of Lyra can be found. In Lyra the famous Ring nebula, M57 and globular cluster M56 can be found.

Constellation Cygnus follows Lyra and the constellations Vulpecula and Sagitta are south of Cygnus. Cygnus had M29 and M39 open clusters. Vulpecula has nebula M27, also known as Dumbbell Nebula and in Sagitta globular cluster M 71 can be found.

Finally before the twilight starts, its time to end the list by observing star rich Scorpius and Sagittarius region. This region contains large number of clusters. M4, M80, M6, M7, M11, M26, M16, M17, M18, M24, M25, M23, M21, M20, M8, M28, M22, M69, M70, M54, M55, M75

Pegasus constellation contains the globular cluster M15.

Constellation Aquarius contains globular clusters M2 and M72 and also M73 an asterism with four stars.

M30, a globular cluster in Capricornus will end the Marathon. Make sure you have a clear Western and Eastern horizon. In the evening when the marathon starts the objects will be low in the horizon. And in the morning M30 will also be very low in the horizon, it has to be observed before the glare of the Sun hides the object.


  1. Nice article. Thanks for detailing every object in the Messier list. Very helpful article.
    To add to the article here is a link for MM planner.
    This link gives many details including a photo of each object.

  2. Nice article, quite informative. Thanks for sharing...