How to Do a Messier Marathon

A Messier Marathon is a stargazing session in which you try to spot all one hundred and ten Messier objects in one night. Although it is difficult, it is possible, with some stargazing organisations offering certificates to those who complete the marathon.


  1. 1
    Check your latitude. The northernmost Messier object is at almost 70 degrees declination, meaning that you have to be north of 20 degrees south latitude. The southernmost is at -35 degrees declination, so you have to be south of 55 degrees north latitude. The best point is around 25 degrees north latitude.
  2. 2
    Find an appropriate time of year. To see all the objects in one night, you have to pick a night around the spring equinox. Pick a night where there is a new moon if possible, or a thin crescent if not.
  3. 3
    Search for the times that the Messier objects will appear on that night.
  4. 4
    Create an observation plan. Basically, what order you will look at them in, and how long you will spend on each one. You'll want to start with the ones that are only in the sky for a few minutes after the sun has set, and finish with the ones that rise a couple of minutes before the sun.
  5. 5
    Find a dark site. You'll want somewhere away from cities, and you'll want somewhere elevated, so that objects on the horizon don't block your view. The top of a big hill would be pretty good.
  6. 6
    Get to the dark site and get set up before sunset. You'll be looking for the objects as soon as the sun sets, so you don't want to be faffing around with your telescope in the dark. Get there early, get set up, then relax until sunset.
  7. 7
    Get a computerised telescope (optional). That way, you don't have to swivel it around yourself: just enter the next target and let the telescope do the work.
  8. 8
    Take photos of each object, if desired. Use a camera that will time and date each photo, so that you have proof that you did it all in one night.


  • Don't panic if you miss one. You'll usually be able to come back to it, and if you miss it, hey, there's always next year.
  • Sometimes there's two nights in one year, one before the equinox and one after, where you can do a Messier marathon. In that case: prepare for both nights: you can use the first as a practise run, and if it's cloudy on one night you'll have a plan for the other.


  • Do not start stargazing before the sun has set, and stop as soon as it comes up. If you don't, you run the risk of accidentally looking at the sun through your telescope - which will make you go blind.
  • Don't expect too much. Astronomical objects always look better in photographs. If you're just using a simple stargazing telescope, you won't see very many details beyond a bunch of grey fuzzy patches.
  • Not all of the objects in Messier's catalogue are deep-sky objects. M40 is a double star, and M73 is an asterism - a pattern of unrelated stars. However, you can still find both of these. Watch out for M102, though - it hasn't been unambiguously identified. Most people agree that it is either a repeat of M101, or NGC 5866. Feel free to give M40, M73 and M102 a miss, especially if you are pushed for time.

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Categories: Astronomy