Messier Marathon, April 1-2, 2000

With a cutoff low pressure weather system hanging over central Phoenix all week, the marathon for 2000 threatened to be a wash. Right up until it was time to leave, the emails were flying, people were scrambling in search of "official" status and looking for clear skies. With the coordinator announcing he wasn't attending, I figured I'd just run the marathon from my own Stone Haven Observatory, 32 55' N lat., 112 9' W. lon., elev. 1408'.

In attendance was Jim Deck, another SAC member. He used his 8" dob and I used my trusty C8. The evening started off with clouds to the NW, effectively eliminating the possibility of seeing all 110 objects. M31, 32, 110, 74, 77, 76, 52, 33 and 103 were all obscured. We also intended to view all 9 planets on this night. I had been monitoring the progress of Pluto all week, with marginal success, due to the weather, but managed to see it at least twice during the week, the last time on Saturday morning at 1:30 AM MST. Mars, Jupiter and Saturn were close together and easy naked eye before twilight, but I turned the scope on them in turn anyway. Always a nice view. Jupiter had Ganymede and Europa on the east and Io and Calisto on the west.

Starting with M34, our marathon went fairly smoothly. Jim is a novice, but did exceptionally well, bagging objects all over the sky, seemingly without difficulty. He attributes this to preparation and good finder charts, which isn't surprising. :-) Some clouds rolled in around the time we were viewing Cancer and Leo, so we took a little break. It was interesting because most of the sky was obscurred, but Leo was nicely framed. Not that you could see the galaxies there, but the stars were nice. :-)

After it cleared again, we proceded through the Virgo cluster without a pause. Once again, Jim proved that the key is preparation-he bagged them all on his first "run" through the area and only asked for confirmation twice. "Is this M87 or 89?" Well done! We completed this area by around 9:30, so had to cool our heels for some time before the rest came up.

Got back to it sometime after midnight. I monitored the field of Pluto, waiting for the seeing to clear. Finally, around 3 AM, it was detected, just popping in and out along with several stars around 14th magnitude, Pluto being 13.8, according to my Earth Centered Universe software.

The night stayed very nice, seeing-wise for the rest of the night. Very clear, very transparent, but a little murky close to the horizons. As short breaks in action occurred waiting for objects to rise, I took opportunities to find Neptune and Uranus. Both were discovered around 4:50 AM. Neptune was decidedly blue and barely showed its disk at 112X. Uranus shows a wonderful green shade and seemed bright by comparison.

The last 3 objects, M72, 73 and 30 were difficult because they were very low, but we both found them with patience and perseverence. M73 always surprises me with how small it is.

I decided to go inside to check on when Venus and Mercury would rise and as I left, I noticed Cassiopeia rising through the Phoenix sky glow. When I came out, Jim was furvently searching for some of the objects we'd missed earlier! Great idea! I went to work looking for M31, found the group and sent my total up to 104. Jim found M52 and 103, bringing his total to 102.

Mercury rose at 5:14 and was detected just above a beautiful new moon at around 5:30. Venus followed shortly at nearly 6:00. The moon was remarkable, in that the bottom of the crescent was distorted by the atmosphere, making the sphere resemble the Greek letter Zeta.

An excellent night, after all!

Steve and Rosie Dodder
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