Messier Marathoners: If not already done so, please send me your results! (2007 or earlier)
Messier Marathon Holders: Please submit any scheduled Messier Marathon 2007 Events!


Messier Marathon is a term describing the attempt to find as many Messier objects as possible in one night. Depending on the location of the observer, and season, there is a different number of them visible, as they are not evenly distributed in the celestial sphere. There are heavily crowded regions in the sky, especially the Virgo Cluster and the region around the Galactic Center, while other regions are virtually empty of them. In particular, there are no Messier objects at all at Right Ascensions 21:40 to 23:20, and only the very northern M52 is between RA 21:40 and 0:40. This chance effect leads, at considerably low northern latitudes on Earth (best around 25 degrees North), to the chance to observe all 110 Messier objects in one night! This opportunity occurs once every year, around mid- to end-March; the best time to try is of course when the Moon is near its new phase. For the upcoming years until 2050, we give best Messier Marathon dates here.

Note: Most Messier Marathoners accept NGC 5866 as M102, either in account of historical evidence, or at least as substitute accepted for the Messier Marathon, and thus arrive at actually 110 different objects. We recommend to do so, but you decide what you want to do.

Messier Marathon was invented independently by several North American (including Tom Hoffelder, Tom Reiland and Don Machholz) and perhaps one Spanish amateur astronomers and groups, in the 1970s. It was probably first in the night of March 23/24, 1985 that Gerry Rattley from Dugas, Arizona, completed the list and hunted down all 110 Messier Objects in one night; while he was the first to achieve this goal, it was only about one hour later that Rick Hull duplicated this success from Anza, California. This is however possible only under exceptionally good observing conditions, and at a preferred location. Anyway, some Messier Marathon tips may help to be [even] more successful with this endeavor, i.e., see one or a few objects more.

Meanwhile, a number of clubs started to hold more considerable Messier Marathon events, notably in Arizona. In 1981, the Saguaro Astronomy Club (SAC) held their first Messier Marathon with about 40 participants, the first in a row of meanwhile 18 events (as of 2006) sponsored by this club; Gerry Rattley's first 110 objects success of 1985 happened on their fourth event. Since 1993, SAC sponsors the famous All Arizona Messier Marathons held annually near Arizona City and organized by A.J. Crayon. Other clubs throughout the world are also holding their Messier Marathon events semi-annually.

The more complete Messier Marathon history can be found in Don Machholz's booklet, The Messier Marathon Observer's Guide, or its newer edition or successor, The Observing Guide to the Messier Marathon, which moreover gives a most useful proposition for the search sequence. It also points out that less complete Messier Marathons may be run at every time in the year, the percentage depending on location and time.

Southerners may prefer other marathons. For the time around September each year, there is another 110-object marathon for mid-northern observers, the Messier Plus Marathon (compiled by Wally Brown and Bob Buckner). Experienced observers have compiled more massive lists for marathoning up to over 500 objects a night; Don Machholz reports that he hunted down 599 deep-sky splendors in one night !

Since their invention, Messier Marathons had to face some opposition. As Don Machholz points out, the major complaint is that "rushing through a Messier [or other] list does not allow to study each" object seriously. However, as nothing prevents you from returning to them, and studying them with more time, in other nights, "such criticism can be ignored, since the Messier Marathon is not designed for everyone. The critic can spend the night looking at a shorter list of wonders. A counterpoint to this resistance is that the Marathoner will see nearly all the Messier Catalogue in one night -- many amateur astronomers [and even more professionals, believe me - hf :-)] never see the whole catalogue in their whole lifetime. Additionally, one's searching and locating skills, necessary in most aspects of astronomy, are sharpened during the Marathon. The benefit of seeing, in one night, the major building blocks of our Galaxy: open and globular clusters, diffuse and planetary nebulae, along with other galaxies, cannot be ignored. Finally, there is a satisfaction of working with others toward a common goal, and then finally achieving it [hopefully !]." Rumors say that there are some hardliners who feel the same satisfaction when they do it alone..

Marathons are of course enriched if other appealing celestial events can fill in the pauses which normally occur if you have hunted down everything you can at a time, and wait for the morning objects to rise. In 1997, the outstanding naked-eye comet Hale-Bopp (C/1995O1) gave an extraordinary spectacle exactly at Messier Marathon time in March and April, to celebrate the Messier Marathon's 20th birthday, similar to 1996's Hyakutake (C/1996B2). In 1998, there was no such bright comet, but a considerable supernova, SN 1998S in NGC 3877 (in Ursa Major), had timely occured and brightened up to 12th magnitude to enrich the Messier Marathon. In 2002, there occured two remarkable add-ons just in time: the most remarkable supernova 2002ap occurred in M74 in late January, and comet C/2002 C1 (Ikeya-Zhang) was discovered, and brightened to naked-eye visibility in March and April! We don't know in advance what extras will give future Messier Marathons additional value, but intend to provide the relevant information here as soon as it is available. In 2006, supernova 2006X flashed up in early February, giving an interesting addition of the marathon. Check for more info on the upcoming Messier Marathon 2007.

Another common extension of the Messier Marathon is to add a solar system marathon, i.e. to try to observe as many of the 8 planets besides Earth during the Messier Marathon night (e.g., 1999 to 2004 offered the opportunity to find all 8). 2006 may be one of the last opportunities to achieve the Nine-Planet goal; then Uranus and later Neptune will be too close to the Sun during Messier Marathon time for a considerable number of years.

There have been several propositions to make the Messier Marathon more challenging for those who do it repeated times. An interesting proposition was brought to my attention by Tom Hoffelder one of the Messier Marathon inventors. He points out that he and his friend Greg Zentz, who has also completed a number of Marathons, came up with the idea of doing it completely from memory. This would mean no star charts or notes of any kind, only a list of the objects in order of search. They are thinking of trying it and calling it "M cubed" (Messier Memory Marathon). On March 29-30, 2003, Don Machholz was the first marathoner to achieve a more notable success in a "M cubed" marathon, as he hunted down as many as 108 Messier objects from memory without any further help. On March 25/26, 2004, it was again Don Machholz who successfully did the first full 110-object score in a "M cubed." Marathoner and A.L. Master Observer Stephen Saber has also been running the M-Cubed for several years. His method adds the memorization of the entire search sequence.

Another interesting possibility is running a photographic Messier Marathon. This was, to our knowledge, first undertaken by Tim Hunter and Dan Knauss of Grasslands Observatory, Arizona in March 1988; see their report.

Messier Marathon Search Sequence

Here are the links to the Messier Marathon Search Sequence List in various formats, the sequence taken from Don Machholz's book The Messier Marathon Observer's Guide. Select the form you would like to view this list: Slightly different sequences and other Messier Marathon related stuff have been published in recent years: The best observing sequence may be particularly different for latitudes notably different from about 40deg North. We can offer an example: Other Messier Marathon Resources:

We collect actual Messier Marathon observer's results !
Look at our All Reported Results Table!
Please notify me if you'd like to have your result/score/report/link/addition/correction to be added !

If you have observed all Messier objects, even not in one night all together, we encourage you to announce this fact on your hompage in the web. You are then granted the right to use a specific logo certifying that you have observed all 110 Messier objects.

The Messier Marathon Homepage has been selected as the San Antonio Astronomy Association - Site of the Week of March 7, 1997

Hartmut Frommert
Christine Kronberg

[SEDS] [MAA] [Home] [Indexes]

Last Modification: March 16, 2007