The Year-Round Messier Marathon Field Guide
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by Harvard Pennington
Among the deepest satisfactions of amateur astronomy is knowing your way around the sky. From the familiar guideposts of the brightest stars, you confidently point your binoculars or telescope toward the Andromeda galaxy, the Hercules cluster, or the Lagoon nebula. This book was written for the person who wants to become deeply familiar with the most famous list of 110 deep-sky wonders, the Messier objects. Using bright “guidepost stars”and detailed sky charts, the novice soon learns how to find the nebulae, star clusters, and galaxies that every amateur astronomer should know. And you need not “run” this marathon just a few weeks a year. Even at the worst you will have about 90 of the 110 objects visible throughout the year!
The observing techniques taught in this book are both easy to learn and powerful, suitable not only for the novice but also for the experienced amateur. By following the sequence of charts presented in the second half of the book, a beginner using Harvard Pennington's methods should be able to locate and identify 25 to 30 Messier objects at any time of year before midnight. By working systematically against time, by running the “Messier Marathon” the observer quickly hones crucial observing skills and soon gains a deep familiarity with the night sky.
Once each year, on a moonless night during late March or early April, observers have an opportunity to test their skills by trying to observe all 110 objects that make up the Messier catalog in just one night! In the early evening, its a race against time to sight the first objects before they set. During the night, marathoners maintain a steady pace to find object after object, and as the dawn light grows, they try to spot the last one before it is lost in the morning twilight. It is not easy, but those who have done the dusk-to-dawn Messier Marathon run it again and again.
In this book, Harvard Pennington shows how to:
- Learn 17 bright finder stars and 17 prominent finder constellations so you will know where to look for all 110 Messier objects.
- Align a sighting device such as the Telrad® so that you can point your telescope rapidly and with assurance toward all of the Messier objects
- Calibrate your telescope so that you know exactly how much sky you see through your finder and through the eyepiece of your telescope.
- Find all of the Messier objects using the maps, drawings and descriptions included in this book. You will know exactly where to point your telescope, and what the object should look like when you find it.
The Year-Round Messier Marathon Field Guide is designed around pages like those shown above which take the guess work out of locating Messier Objects. The circles shown on the map of Orion are Telrad finder views. Just place the Telrad as shown and you are very close. Then check (if necessary) the 8 x 50 finder views shown on the opposite page to zero in on the object. The sketches and accompanying text take the guess work out any final identification. This technique works year-round so you do not have to limit your fun to a single night in the Spring!