March 8, 2011


Kutch Amateur Astronomers’ Club organized their 6th Messier Marathon on 5-6 March 2011. This year, firstly we decided to organize this event 22 km North of Bhuj city where the Tropic of Cancer passes. Then we planned to do this year’s Messier Marathon at Kala Dungar (The Black Hills of Kutch) which is 458 meters above the sea level, where we wanted to invite more people to join and learn about Messier objects and the night sky. But we couldn’t make it done and we had very less time to invite peoples. Finally the date arrived and we had to decide where to go for this year’s Marathon. In the morning of the 5th March, I and our club member Kartik Pomal went to our Club office to meet Mr. Narendra Gor and decide. Eventually we selected our regular observing place, Makanpar-Dhosa and decided to do this year’s Messier Marathon from there. This place is about 15km away from the city of Bhuj and is best for stargazing and bird watching. This year the time of the New Moon was so early that we were prepared to miss some of the last session’s objects because they’ll be too low in the eastern sky at the morning twilight. Generally doing Messier Marathon in mid March is ideal where chances of missing the twilight objects are very low.

I left Bhuj with Mr. Narendra Gor and Kartik Pomal at 5:40pm. I brought my 8-inch Newtonian and 25x100 Binoculars. Mr. Narendra Gor brought his 6-inch SkyWatchers Newtonian and 8x40 Olympus Binoculars. I had no preparations this time so I brought charts and list of Messier objects which I used last year. I was in so hurry that I forgot my 10x50 Olympus binos! Such handy equipments are very useful to locate bright M-objects. It takes very less time to point them and thus saves great time and strength! We reached there at around 6:30pm. First of all we searched around to find place from where we can complete our first session. From the terrace of Dhosa-Mahadev temple we cannot see objects which lie in the West because the temple’s dome blocks a huge portion of the Western sky. So we needed to find a nearby hill or some place to complete the first session. The village is situated in the hilly area so the ground in that area is uneven. We found a place just next to the temple which was in the same height of a temple. We decided to carry only my 25x100 Binos for the first session. Before going there we did bird watching. Kartik is expert in bird watching so he guided us. There is a beautiful lake near the temple which was full of ducks.
We began the first session at 7:45pm. I easily pointed the Andromeda Galaxy (M31) and two of its satellite galaxies (M32 and M110). All the three were visible in a single field of view of my binos. The next object was M52 and then M103. I then pointed the binos to M76, a 12th magnitude planetary nebula in Perseus. I failed to locate this dim planetary nebula all the time in my previous marathons. I have also never observed this planetary nebula in my life. But this time I could easily see it! It was just a degree away from the 4th magnitude Phi Persei star. It was very close to the 6.5th magnitude reddish star. I then showed it to Mr. Narendra Gor and Kartik Pomal.
At that time other club members Nishant Gor, Chandni Gor, Amit Hedau, Mr. Jigar and Mrs. Rina arrived. I and Nishant found M33. I used 8x40 Binos and Nishant used 25x100s to find this galaxy. The other two galaxies M77 and M74 were very low so we didn’t attempt to find them! Mr. Narendra Gor, at this time explained the night sky using a green laser pointer; he also showed us the zodiacal light. I continued locating Messier objects. We missed two objects in the first session. I then continued to locate objects of the second session. Using 8x40s I easily captured M34, M45, M42, M43, M78 and M35. Nishant located M79 through 25x100s. We took a dinner break here. Just before taking the dinner we saw a brilliant fireball (~mag -5)! It was slow and left a smoky tail behind. We all were amazed by looking it and enjoyed its beauty with screams!
Now we uncovered our telescopes. I put my 25x100s back it its case and uncovered my 8-inch Newtonian. Mr. Narendra Gor and Nishant uncovered their 6-inch Newtonian. We settled them on the terrace near the temple. The bright light in the temple compound was highly disturbing so we switched it off before we continue. We took permission from the worshipper of the temple to switch off the lights and he said yes! In the complete darkness we felt the real joy of the night sky where the Naked Eye Limiting Magnitude reached 5.5.

I adjusted the view finder and then pointed the telescope to M1 (The Crab Nebula) and then swept M93 and all the three Auriga Clusters (M37, M36 and M38) through my scope’s viewfinder. I then bagged M41, M47, M46, M50, M48, M44 and M67 easily using both the scope and 8x40 binos. The second session here finished successfully with much time to observe few attractive clusters. Mr. Narendra Gor explained few objects to the participants.
Now it was the time for the five Leo galaxies. I saw M65 and M66 through 8x40s and M95, M96, M105 through the 8-inch Newtonian. I then moved the scope to two beautiful galaxies M81 and M82 in Ursa Major. Nishant Gor started to find some of the Virgo Galaxies using a chart. I then added M97, M108 to my counting. Then joining Nishant, through his 6-inch Newtonian, we located M87, M60, M59, M58, M89, M90 and M91. During this time we encountered many NGC galaxies in this region of the sky which made little bit confuse both of us but we could distinguish them by the help of the finding charts! Then I added M40, M109, M101, M51, M63, M94, M106 and M64 to my counting using my 8-inch. Now I went downstairs to get back my 25x100s to find more objects. I held the 25x100s in my hands and pointed to the bright globular M3 and then M53, a bit fainter than M3. Here we all took rest for half hour.
After waking back I continued finding rest of the Virgo-Coma galaxies and marked M100, M99, M98, M85 in the list and then finished The Southern Group containing M68, M83, M104 and the Northern-most M102 in Draco, then again moved the scope back to Virgo to finish the rest of galaxies, M88, M86, M84, M49 and M61. Here I took rest for an hour. My score at this time was 65 out of 67 objects. Rest of the objects is now easy except the early morning twilight objects so I was ready to find them. The Scorpius had emerged through the SE sky and the Hercules was also well up in the East. I decided to find two brilliant Globular Clusters in that region. I bagged M13 and M92 and then M57 and M56 in Lyra. I waited for Scorpius to come up. By now, it was 4:10am and I was prepared to sweep all the fine and rich M-objects in the Scorpius-Sagittarius region but before I start, the worshipper of the temple switched on all the lights! All the fait stars visible through the naked eye vanished! I could not tell him to switch the lights off because it was their time to worship the lord. I first thought I would miss most of the objects in this session. The bright lights were reflecting from the eyepieces and viewfinders so I was unable to locate the objects! A couple of minutes I thought what I should do, all my passions, and efforts were getting down! I was alone at this time, feeling helpless under the bright lights :(
After thinking about what to do I just lifted the heavy 25x100 Binos in my hands, sat on a chair and pointed to M5. After few seconds of balancing the heavy (5 kg) Binos I could manage to glimpse this bright globular in the constellation of Serpens Caput. Then without using a chart, through my memory I swept M12, M10, M14, M107 and M9. Then I bagged M4, M62, M19, M80, M6 and M7. This equipment was so heavy that I cannot hold it continuously. Every time I would glimpse an object and then would give rest to my hands for few seconds and again aim at the next object. I then aimed the binos to the brilliant Globular Cluster M22. My next choice was some easy objects in Cygnus and Scutum. I swept both M29 and M39 easily and then M11 and M26 through the 8-inch Telescope. Then I again lifted the Binos and continued finding objects in Sagittarius. The next was M28, the small brother of M22! Then stunning M8 (Lagoon Nebula), M20 (Trifid Nebula) and an Open Cluster M21 in the same Field of View (FOV). Then I swept up M23, M24, M25, M18, M17, M16, M69, M70 and M54. M70, the Globular was real nasty and took almost 10 minutes to come into the FOV! The problem was that the constellation of Sagittarius was very low in the SE where the lights of Bhuj city were disturbing. I finished my run by pointing two objects, M71 and M27. I deliberately left the last session containing the five Morning Twilight objects. I gave up because I was tired and disturbed by the lights. I also got pain on my knees by holding the 25x100 Binos so I wanted to rest! My total score was 101 objects out of 110. This is the highest score for our club since 2006.
Over All the experience was excellent! I could feel that my ability of finding the Messier objects has increased so I could find most objects without charts! This year was better than previous year’s Marathon as we had a good site this time. This time we also shared the knowledge of the night sky and explained the night sky and the deep sky objects to our new members.
-Rahul Zota
KAAC, Bhuj-India


Suresh Bhattarai said...

Great work!Congratulations!

Rahul Zota said...

Thank you very much Suresh for the comment :)