Later this month at our observing session (24th or 25th March) we will be attempting a "mini Messier marathon", weather permitting of course.
A Messier marathon is a challenge often undertaken by astronomy societies around the world at this time of year. It is an attempt to see all 109 Messier objects in one night. Perhaps a little background is in order;
What are the Messier objects ? - Charles Messier was an 18th century French astronomer, who was particularly interested in discovering new comets. During his search of comets he was often frustrated by many other faint fuzzy objects which looked like comets but weren't. So he compiled a list of all these object to avoid confusion. Eventually the list grew to 109 objects consisting of; galaxies, star clusters and nebulae. Over the years the Messier Catalogue, as it is know, has become a favourite with amateur astronomers the world over.
Why a marathon at this time of year ? - The Messier Objects are spread throughout the sky. At any particular time of the year the sun will be in a certain part of the sky, and we can't see the stars in that part of the sky because it is daylight ! In March, the sun is in an area of sky where there are no Messier objects, therefore it is possible to see all the objects in one night, only during this period.
However, as we are located further north than the ideal location it is not possible to see all 109 objects from Cockermouth. Also, given that none of us have tried 'the marathon' before it would be too much to try the full course.
We'll try a 'mini marathon'. basically we'll set up and see how many objects we can see during the night. Night Sky magazine [www.nightskymag.com] has a mini Messier Marathon article in their current issue, which details the easiest 25 objects to find for beginners. I think, weather permitting, we can do better than that.
What will I need ? - Bring a telescope or binoculars if you have them. If not just turn up anyway, we have binoculars you can borrow, and there will hopefully be plenty of telescopes as well. You need to bring warm clothing, and something to eat and drink. If you are planning on staying all night a deck chair or similar will be useful for resting, and grabbing a quick nap.
Where are we meeting ? - Good question ! We usually meet at Calbeck (map here and directions here). However, that's a long way to travel, so we may be better using a site closer to Cockermouth, giving people the opportunity to go home for a rest if needed. We need to identify a suitable site pretty quickly to do that, as yet I've had no suggestions.
Check back later in the week for confirmation of our location.