Messier Marathon time is almost upon us. The weather forecast gives us a roughly even-money chance of having clear skies…which isn’t bad for March. I thought it’d be worthwhile to go through some quick tips and suggestions to help us all get ready. I am aided in writing this post by a fine book, Astronomy Hacks by Robert Bruce Thompson & Barbara Fritchman Thompson, which was recently given to me by a nice person (Hi Debbie!).
Finalize your observing sequence and schedule
Don’t fly blind! According to Astronomy Hacks, you should develop a your own schedule that works for your latitude and observing site. Makes sense doesn’t it? I’m planning on using Stellarium, AstroPlanner, and published lists (more on that later). I don’t personally plan on completing more than half the objects (it’s my first Marathon and I’ve only ever observed 37 Messiers).
Learn your equipment
Oh boy, waiting until it’s dark on March 21st to learn how to use your Telrad is not a recipe for Marathon success. Take some time this week to make sure you can set up and use your telescope with minimum hassle. We’re all a bit rusty after this admittedly short winter. “Equipment” isn’t limited to shiny mirrors or pretty glass. Astronomy Hacks also suggests getting out in a cold evening beforehand for an extended period of time so you know what you are getting into and if you need any cold extra weather gear for Saturday.
Prepare your charts
Whatever your preferred charting method (laptop software, Sky Atlas 2000.0, past notes, etc) now is the time to get this stuff in order. Astronomy Hacks recommends keeping it simple and optimized for finding Messiers: use custom charts printed from planetarium software so that the charts are appropriate for the time you intend to observe each object. Plan Telrad placements for star-hops (if you’re into that sort of thing.)
Practice the Virgo Cluster
Or is it “Clutter”? ‘Nuff said. It might be too late for this one…doesn’t look like we’ll have a clear night between now and Saturday…never know though.
Make a checklist if you don’t already have one. Plan to bring warm stuff including a hot drink. I’m going to bring a bunch of those magic hand-warmer things. Make sure all your stuff actually works after being in storage all winter!
Charge your phone. Charge batteries. Make sure your family’s expectations for Sunday are low. Oh, and get some sleep.
Got any other suggestions? Tell us on the club mailing list!