Rose City Astronomers'
Messier Marathon '98 - Binocular Tour

While snow in central Oregon at Kah-Nee-Ta is not an unusual event, it's something the RCA's Messier Marathon has not contended with in the past. This time the snow level came down to join us, with snow showers both Friday and Saturday. I left Portland about noon on Friday and chose to take the long drive through the Dalles and Wapinitia to minimize the risk of putting chains on the truck; it's always a pleasant drive, but the snow pellets at the top of Tygh Ridge told me this would be a chilly event in '98!

I arrived late in the afternoon and checked in before arranging the hastily-assembled items in the truck into some degree of order. My first contact with other attendees was Jon Buting, our RCA ambassador to New Mexico and former point-man for this event. It sounds like he was been quite busy down there, getting a new business in gear while getting press coverage for more lighting ordinances in his area. I returned to my room and dressed for Arctic conditions, while random clearing held out hope for some views. The clouds seemed reluctant to depart completely, so I decided to leave the big 'scope in the car and focus on my fairly-new 16x70 binoculars. I had assembled an oak mounting for the binoculars and hoped to capture a sizable number of Messier objects with them. The Astronomical League has a binocular-Messier program that requires fifty objects; since I had already picked up the bright winter clusters from Portland, I hoped the darker skies would allow for a better mix of Messiers in my collection.

I reached the observing site near twilight, and a hazy opening allowed Leo to shine dimly in the dusk. Orion stood out for a while, so I began with numbers 42 and 78, but northwest and southwest skies chose not to cooperate for other items, and even the Pleiades took a while to escape the clouds. A timely rift allowed most of the winter Milky Way to shine out, and I used that opportunity to run from M34 down to 48 before the gap closed (M79 never had a chance). I even found a suspicious spot at M76's location, but I marked it as 'suspected' and made it a high priority for Saturday. Leo reappeared with Ursa Major, but the latter was too high up for my bino-mount to reach comfortably; I took 81/82, 101 and 51 before resting my neck on lower sights. I was surprised to see not only M65 and 66, but also their companion ngc3628 in the field; I did not expect non-Messier objects to be available to 70mm binoculars. The clouds reasserted themselves while I was touring the Virgo area, leaving smaller clear areas with thin haze added to the mix; by 11pm I called it a night, having captured 43 objects and four marked as suspected. With a minimal amount of luck, I could have the required fifty objects the following night! (I later heard that my gamble paid off: several others stayed at the site later, but no large-scale clearing occurred in my absence.)

Friday from Observing Site
M1 M3 M13 M34 M35 M36 M37 M38
M41 M42 M43 M44 M45 M46 M47 M48
M49 M50 M51 M52 M58 M60 M61 M63
M65 M66 M67 M78 M81 M82 M84 M85
M86 M87 M93 M95 M96 M99 M100 M101
M103 M104 M105
suspected: M59 M68 M76 M91

After totally failing to sleep in, I took a drive to Warm Springs in the morning, then made use of sauna and spa to unwind. The blue skies of mid-morning began to fade a bit by afternoon, with more dark clouds wandering about the area. The area between the clouds looked promising, however, so I resolved to break out the 22-inch telescope for this night. Its primary purpose was a bit humiliating for one so large: I was going to use it to confirm objects picked up in the 70mm binoculars! At about 6pm a brief snowstorm dusted the site; once that passed I set everything up and waited. This site has low hills in the northeast that are especially damaging to M74-chasers, so I chose not to pursue M74 or 77. I verified M76, swung south for 79 and waited out a few last clouds before catching 31/32/110 and 33 just above the horizon. The 22-inch was hard-pressed to stoop so low to the horizon, but it was invaluable for verifying M76 and 110. I then caught Ursa Major before it went vertical, with M97, 108 and 109 again verified by the 22" scope. Within an hour or two all clouds had vanished, but a bitter wind from the northeast drove away all but those with thick skins and heavy clothing. I chose not to recapture the 'thirtysomethings' from the night before, but concentrated on the meticulous dissection of the springtime galaxies. Somehow M91 remained on the 'suspected' list while all others in the area fell to the search, aided greatly by the 22-inch. Fortified by a thermos full of a cocoa-coffee combo, I moved south for 68/104/83 then turned left for 13/92/57. The Ring is tiny in binoculars, but once it gained elevation I put the 22" on it and verified its position.

Saturday from Observing Site
M5 M10 M12 M14 M29 M31 M32 M33
M39 M53 M56 M57 M59* M64 M68* M76*
M79 M80 M83 M88 M89 M90 M92 M94
M97 M98 M106 M108 M109 M110

* = suspected before, verified here

By 1am I had pulled in the Ophiuchian globulars and was watching Antares rise when a few extra gusts of wind caught my attention. I had captured an additional 30 Messiers, bringing the weekend total to 73, but the wind was starting to get to me. I decided that I could be just as effective from the deck of my lodge-room, where rumors persisted that the winds were calm, so I packed in the big scope and retreated to my room. From 1:40 until 2:30 I progressed through the summer Milky Way and western Scorpius, adding sixteen more to the list of captures. Since most of Sagittarius was still below the hills, I set my alarm for 4:20 and took a warm nap. I awoke to twilight, Venus, and a bit less time than I had hoped, but I hit the deck and swept the east for M2 and 15 before perusing the Teapot. Daylight was gaining quickly, and M54 was only a suspected catch. The extra two hours moved M20 and 21 from suspected to clearly captured, but several others escaped into the twilight. The final eight captures brought me to the weekend total of ninety-seven captures with 70mm binoculars. Two others (M54 and 91) remained on the 'suspected' list, and getting up twenty minutes sooner could have netted another half-dozen. For a pair of binoculars, it was an excellent weekend's work!

Saturday from the Lodge Deck
M2 M4 M6 M7 M8 M9 M11 M15
M16 M17 M18 M19 M20 M21 M22 M23
M24 M25 M26 M27 M28 M62 M71 M107
suspected: M54

Our club has been visiting Kah-Nee-Ta resort for many years now, and regardless of forecasts we always get a decent amount of viewing. I was amazed at what 70mm binoculars will show from a good site; the Astronomical League implies that several objects on the list are all but invisible in binoculars; I think that the 16x magnification was most helpful in capturing several of them. Low-power binoculars would be hard-pressed to identify some of the smallest objects. I look forward to late summer, when those objects I pulled off the horizon will be in better position to observe at leisure. It was a great experience to see these objects 'in context', each at the same scale in a 4-degree field; for example, M27 seemed huge, and 57 barely non-stellar. Now for the write-up and hand-off to our ALCOR...

Missing in action
M74,77evening twilight and horizon
M30,55,72,73morning twilight
M69,70,75twilight and exhaustion
M102distractions, most notably the supernova in n3877
M40philosophical differences - it's just a double star to me

Note - at the '98 Oregon Star Party I was able to capture all remaining objects except M91!