Messier 15 (M15) – The Great Pegasus Cluster

Welcome back to Messier Monday! Today, in our ongoing tribute to Tammy Plotner, we take a look at the M15 globular cluster, one of the oldest and best known star clusters in the night sky. Enjoy!

In the 18th century, French astronomer Charles Messier began noticing a series of “nebulous objects” in the night sky while looking for comets. Not wanting other astronomers to make the same mistake, he began compiling a list of these objects into a catalog. In time, this list would include 100 objects, and came to be known by future astronomers as the Messier Catalog.

One of these objects is the globular cluster known as M15. Located in the northern constellation Pegasus, it is one of the brightest clusters in the night sky (with a visual brightness that is roughly 360,000 times that of our Sun). It is also one of the finest globular clusters in the northern section of the sky, the best deep-sky object in the constellation of Pegasus, and one of the oldest and best known globular clusters.

Description:

Messier 15 is probably the most dense globular cluster in our entire Milky Way galaxy – having already undergone a process of contraction. What does that mean to what you’re seeing? This ball of stars measures about 210 light years across, yet more than half of the stars you see are packed into the central area in a space just slightly more than ten light years in size.

By looking for single stars within globular clusters, the Hubble Space Telescope was either looking for a massive black hole or evidence of a “core collapse” – the intense gravity of so many stars so close together. Although it was peeking nearly 37,000 light-years away, the Hubble was able to resolve hundreds of stars converging on M15’s core. Like magnetism, their gravity would either cause them to attract or repel one another – and a black hole may have formed at some point in the cluster’s 12-billion-year life.

The globular cluster known as Messier 15, located some 35 000 light-years away in the Pegasus constellation. Credit: Mount Lemmon SkyCenter/University of Arizona
The globular cluster known as Messier 15, located some 35 000 light-years away in the Pegasus constellation. Credit: Mount Lemmon SkyCenter/University of Arizona

The study which addressed this data – which appeared in the January 1996 issue of the Astronomical Journal, was led by Puragra Guhathakurta of UCO/Lick Observatory, UC Santa Cruz – asked the question of whether or not the speed of the cluster’s stars could tell us if M15’s dense core was caused by a single huge object, or just mutual attraction. As Guhathakurta stated in the study:

“It is very likely that M15’s stars have concentrated because of their mutual gravity. The stars could be under the influence of one giant central object, although a black hole is not necessarily the best explanation for what we see. But if any globular cluster has a black hole at its center, M15 is the most likely candidate.”

John Bahcall and astrophysicist Jeremiah Ostriker of Princeton University were the first to forward the idea that Messier 15 might be hiding a black hole. While it is distinct from many other globular clusters by having such a dense core, it really isn’t that much different than all the rest of the globular clusters we see. Yet, no where else in our galaxy, except at its core, are the stars that dense!

It is estimated that 30,000 distinct stars exist in the inner 22 light-years of the cluster alone. The closer the Hubble telescope looked, the more stars it found. This increase in stellar density continued all the way to within 0.06 light-years of the center – about 100 times the distance between our Sun and Pluto. “Detecting separate stars that close to the core was at the limit of Hubble’s powers,” says Brian Yanny of the Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory.

The location of M15, within the Pegasus Constellation. Credit: IAU and Sky & Telescope magazine (Roger Sinnott & Rick Fienberg)
The location of M15, within the Pegasus Constellation. Credit: IAU and Sky & Telescope magazine (Roger Sinnott & Rick Fienberg)

At this point, even the great Hubble could not distinguish individual stars, or locate the exact position of the core. Guhathakurta and is colleagues theorized that the stars crowd even closer inside the radius, so they plotted the distribution of the stars as a function of distance from the core. When the results came back, they had two answers – either a black hole was responsible, or a gravothermal catastrophe called core collapse was the culprit.

“It’s a catastrophe in the sense that once it starts, this process can run away very quickly,” said Guhathakurta. “But other processes could cause the core to bounce back before it collapses all the way.”

At an estimated 13.2 billion years old, it is one of the oldest known globular clusters, but it isn’t done throwing some surprises at us. M15 was the first globular cluster in which a planetary nebula, Pease 1 or K 648 (“K” for “Kuster”), could be identified – and can be seen with larger aperture amateur telescopes. Even stranger is the fact that Messier 15 contains 112 variable stars, and 9 known pulsars – neutron stars which are the leftovers of ancient supernovae. And one of these is a double neutron star system – M15 C.

History of Observation:

M15 was discovered by Jean-Dominique Maraldi on September 7, 1746 while he was looking for a comet. Says he:

“On September 7 I noticed between the stars Epsilon Pegasi and Beta Equulei, a fairly bright nebulous star, which is composed of many stars, of which I have determined the right ascension of 319d 27′ 6″, and its northern declination of 11d 2′ 22”. About 25 years later, Charles Messier would independently rediscover it to add to his own catalog, describing it as: “In the night of June 3 to 4, 1764, I have discovered a nebula between the head of Pegasus and that of Equuleus it is round, its diameter is about 3 minutes of arc, the center is brilliant, I have not distinguished any star; having examined it with a Gregorian telescope which magnifies 104 times, it had little elevated over the horizon, and maybe that observed at a greater elevation one can perceive stars.”

Camera SBIG STX16803 CCD Camera Filters Astrodon Gen II Dates December 2015 Location Mount Lemmon SkyCenter Exposure RGB = 2 : 2 : 2 Hours Acquisition Astronomer Control Panel (ACP), Maxim DL/CCD (Cyanogen), FlatMan XL (Alnitak) Processing CCDStack, Photoshop, PixInsight Credit Line & Copyright Adam Block/Mount Lemmon SkyCenter/University of Arizona
Deep Broadband (RGB) image of M15, taken from the Mount Lemmon SkyCenter. Credit and Copyright: Adam Block/Mount Lemmon SkyCenter/University of Arizona

Sir William Herschel would be the first to resolve some of its stars, but not the core. It would be his son John who would later pick up structure. However, like the dutiful and colorful observer that he was, Admiral Smyth will leave us with this lasting impression:

“Although this noble cluster is rated as globular, it is not exactly round, and under the best circumstances is seen as in the diagram, with stragglers branching from a central blaze. Under a moderate magnifying power, there are many telescopic and several brightish stars in the field; but the accumulated mass is completely insulated, and forcibly strikes the senses as being almost infinitely beyond those apparent comets. Indeed, it may be said to appear evidently aggregated by mutual laws, and part of some stupendous and inscrutable scheme of involution; for there is nothing quiescent throughout the immensity of the vast creation.”

Considering Smyth’s observations were made nearly two centuries before we really began to understand what was going on inside Messier 15, you’ll have to admit he was a very good observer!

Locating Messier 15:

Surprisingly enough, globular cluster M15 is easy to find. Once you’ve located the “Great Square” of Pegasus, simply choose its brightest and southwesternmost star – Alpha. Now identify the small, kite shape of the constellation of Delphinus. Roughly halfway between these two (and slightly south), you’ll spy a slightly reddish star – Epsilon Peg (Enif).

By placing Enif in your binoculars or image correct finderscope at the 7:00 position, you can’t miss this bright, compact beauty. Even the smallest of optics will reveal the round glow and telescopes starting at 4″ will begin resolution – while large telescopes will simply amaze you. However, don’t expect to open this globular up to the core region. As already noted, its pretty dense in there!

And here are the quick facts for Messier 15, for your convenience:

Object Name: Messier 15
Alternative Designations: M15, NGC 7078
Object Type: Class IV Globular Cluster
Constellation: Pegasus
Right Ascension: 21 : 30.0 (h:m)
Declination: +12 : 10 (deg:m)
Distance: 33.6 (kly)
Visual Brightness: 6.2 (mag)
Apparent Dimension: 18.0 (arc min)

We have written many interesting articles about Messier Objects here at Universe Today. Here’s Tammy Plotner’s Introduction to the Messier Objects, , M1 – The Crab Nebula, M8 – The Lagoon Nebula, and David Dickison’s articles on the

Messier 14 (M14) – the NGC 6402 Globular Cluster

Welcome back to Messier Monday! Today, in our ongoing tribute to Tammy Plotner, we take a look at the M14 globular cluster!

In the 18th century, French astronomer Charles Messier began cataloging all the “nebulous objects” he had come to find while searching the night sky. Having originally mistook these for comets, he compiled a list these objects in the hopes of preventing future astronomers from making the same mistake. In time, the list would include 100 objects, and would come to be known as the Messier Catalog to posterity.

One of these objects was the globular cluster which he would designate as M14. Located in the southern constellation Ophiuchus, this slightly elliptically-shaped stellar swarm contains several hundred thousand stars, a surprising number of which are variables. Despite these stars not being densely concentrated in the central region, this object is not hard to spot for amateur astronomers that are dedicated to their craft!

Description:

Located some 30,000 light years from Earth and measuring 100 light years in diameter, this globular cluster can be found in the southern Ophiuchus constellation, along with several other Messier Objects. Although it began its life some 13.5 billion years ago, it is far from being done changing. It is still shaking intracluster dust from its shoes.

The constellation Ophiuchis. Credit: iau.org
The constellation Ophiuchis. Credit: iau.org

What this means is that M14, like many globular clusters, contains a good deal of matter that it picked up during its many times orbiting the center of our Galaxy. According to studies done by N. Matsunaga (et al):

“Our goal is to search for emission from the cold dust within clusters. We detect diffuse emissions toward NGC 6402 and 2808, but the IRAS 100-micron maps show the presence of strong background radiation. They are likely emitted from the galactic cirrus, while we cannot rule out the possible association of a bump of emission with the cluster in the case of NGC 6402. Such short lifetime indicates some mechanism(s) are at work to remove the intracluster dust… (and) its impact on the chemical evolution of globular clusters.”

Another thing that makes Messier 14 unusual is the presence of CH stars, such as the one that was discovered in 1997. CH stars are a very specific type of Population II carbon stars that can be identified by CH absorption bands in the spectra. Middle aged and metal poor, these underluminous suns are known to be binaries. Patrick Cote, the chief author of the research team that discovered the star, wrote in their research report to the American Astronomical Society:

“We report the discovery of a probable CH star in the core of the Galactic globular cluster M14 (=NGC 6402 = C1735-032), identified from an integrated-light spectrum of the cluster obtained with the MOS spectrograph on the Canada-France-Hawaii telescope. Both the star’s location near the tip of the red giant branch in the cluster color-magnitude diagram and its radial velocity therefore argue for membership in M14. Since the intermediate-resolution MOS spectrum shows not only enhanced CH absorption but also strong Swan bands of C2, M14 joins Centaurus as the only globular clusters known to contain “classical” CH stars. Although evidence for its duplicity must await additional radial velocity measurements, the CH star in M14 is probably, like all field CH stars, a spectroscopic binary with a degenerate (white dwarf) secondary.”

M14 Globular Cluster. Credit: tcaa.us
M14 Globular Cluster. Credit: tcaa.us

History of Observation:

The first recorded observations of the cluster were made by Charles Messier, who described it as a nebula without stars and catalogued it on June 1st, 1764. As he noted in his catalog:

“In the same night of June 1 to 2, 1764, I have discovered a new nebula in the garb which dresses the right arm of Ophiuchus; on the charts of Flamsteed it is situated on the parallel of the star Zeta Serpentis: that nebula is not considerable, its light is faint, yet it is seen well with an ordinary [non-achromatic] refractor of 3 feet & a half [FL]; it is round, & its diameter can be 2 minutes of arc; above it & very close to it is a small star of the nineth magnitude. I have employed for seeing this nebula nothing but the ordinary refractor of 3 feet & a half with which I have not noticed any star; maybe with a larger instrumentone could perceive one. I have determined the position of that nebula by its passage of the Meridian, comparing it with Gamma Ophiuchi, it has resulted for its right ascension 261d 18? 29?, & for its declination 3d 5? 45? south. I have marked that nebula on the chart of the apparent path of the Comet which I have observed last year [the comet of 1769].”

In 1783, William Herschel observed the cluster and was the first to resolve it into individual stars. As he noted, “With a power of 200, I see it consists of stars. They are better visible with 300. With 600, they are too obscure to be distinguished, though the appearance of stars is still preserved. This seems to be one of the most difficult objects to be resolved. With me, there is not a doubt remaining; but another person, in order to form a judgement, ought previously to go through all the several gradations of nebulae which I have resolved into stars.“

As always, it was Admiral William Henry Smyth who provided the most lengthy and detailed description, which he did in July of 1835:

“A large globular cluster of compressed minute stars, on the Serpent-bearer’s left arm. This fine object is of a lucid white colour, and very nebulous in aspect; which may be partly owing to its being situated in a splendid field of stars, the lustre of which interferes with it. By diminishing the field under high powers, some of the brightest of these attendants are excluded, but the cluster loses its definition. It was discovered by Messier in 1764, and thus described: “A small nebula, no star; light faint; form round; and may be seen with a telescope 3 1/2 feet long.” The mean apparent place is obtained by differentiation from Gamma Ophiuchi, from which it is south-by-west about 6deg 1/2, being nearly midway between Beta Scorpii and the tail of Aquila, and 16deg due south of Rasalhague [Alpha Ophiuchi]. Sir William Herschel resolved this object in 1783, with his 20-foot reflector, and he thus entered it: “Extremely bright, round, easily resolvable; with [magnification] 300 I can see the stars. The heavens are pretty rich in stars of a certain size [magnitude, brightness], but they are larger [brighter] than those in the cluster, and easily to be distinguished from them. This cluster is considerably behind the scattered stars, as some of them are projected upon it.” He afterwards added: “From the observations with the 20-foot telescope, which in 1791 and 1799 had the power of discering stars 75-80 times as far as the eye, the profundity of this cluster must be of the 900th order.” “It resembles the 10th Connoissance des temps [Messier 10], which probably would put on the same appearance as this, were it removed half its distance farther from us.”

Finder Chart for M14 (also shown M10 and M12). Credit: freestarcharts.com
Finder Chart for Messier 14 (also showing M10 and M12). Credit: freestarcharts.com

Locating Messier 14:

Messier 14 can be found by first locating Delta Ophiuchi, which M14 is located at about 21 degrees east and 0.4 degrees north from. It can also be found about one-third of the way from Beta to Eta Ophiuchi. If you know where Messier 10 is, take a look 0.8 degrees north and 10 degrees east of it to find M14. The cluster can also be located along the imaginary line from Cebalrai, an orange giant with an apparent magnitude of 2.76 and the fifth brightest star in Ophiuchus, to Antares, the bright red supergiant located in Scorpius.

With an apparent magnitude of +7.6, M14 can be easily observed with binoculars. For those using small telescopes, the bright center and faint halo can be viewed, whereas 8-inch instruments will reveal the cluster’s elliptical shape. To resolve individual stars, you will need a 12-inch telescope or larger. The best time of year to observe the cluster is in the months of May, June and July.

And here are the quick facts for Messier 15, for your convenience:

Object Name: Messier 14
Alternative Designations: M14, NGC 6402
Object Type: Globular Cluster
Constellation: Ophiuchus
Right Ascension: 17 : 37.6 (h:m)
Declination: -03 : 14 (deg: m)
Distance: 30.3 (kly)
Visual Brightness: 7.6 (mag)
Apparent Dimension: 11.0 (arc minutes)

We have written many interesting articles about Messier Objects here at Universe Today. Here’s Tammy Plotner’s Introduction to the Messier Objects, , M1 – The Crab Nebula, M8 – The Lagoon Nebula, and David Dickison’s articles on the 2013 and 2014 Messier Marathons.

Be to sure to check out our complete Messier Catalog. And for more information, check out the SEDS Messier Database.

Messier 12 (M12) – The NGC 6118 Globular Cluster

Welcome back to another edition of Messier Monday! Today, we continue in our tribute to Tammy Plotner with a look at the M12 globular cluster!

In the 18th century, French astronomer Charles Messier noted the presence of several “nebulous objects” in the night sky which he originally mistook for comets. After realizing his mistake, he began compiling a list of these objects in order to ensure that other astronomers did not make the same error. In time, this list would include 100 objects, and would come to be known as the Messier Catalog to posterity.

One the many objects included in this is Messier 12 (aka. M12 or NGC 6218), a globular cluster located in the Ophiuchus constellation some 15,700 light-years from Earth.  M12 is positioned just 3° from the cluster M10, and the two are among the brightest of the seven Messier globulars located in Ophiuchus. It is also interesting to note that M12 is approaching our Solar System at a velocity of 16 km/s.

Continue reading “Messier 12 (M12) – The NGC 6118 Globular Cluster”

Messier 10 (M10) – The NGC 6254 Globular Cluster

Welcome to another installment of Messier Monday! Today, we continue in our tribute to our dear friend, Tammy Plotner, by taking a look at Messier Object 10.

In the 18th century, French astronomer Charles Messier noted the presence of several “nebulous objects” in the night sky while searching for comets. Hoping to ensure that other astronomers did not make the same mistake, he began compiling a list of 1oo  of them. This list came to be known as the Messier Catalog, and would have far-reaching consequences.

In addition to being as a major milestone in the history of astronomy and the study of Deep Sky Objects. One of these objects is known as Messier 10 (aka. NGC 6254), a globular cluster that is located in the equatorial constellation of Ophiuchus. Of the many globular clusters that appear in this constellation (seven of which were cataloged by Messier himself) M10 is the brightest, and can be spotted with little more than a pair of binoculars. Continue reading “Messier 10 (M10) – The NGC 6254 Globular Cluster”

Messier 8 (M8) – The Lagoon Nebula

Welcome to another Messier Monday. In our ongoing tribute to the great Tammy Plotner, we bring you another item from the Messier Catalog!

In the 18th century, while searching the night sky for comets, French astronomer Charles Messier kept noting the presence of fixed, diffuse objects in the night sky. In time, he would come to compile a list of approximately 100 of these objects, with the purpose of making sure that astronomers did not mistake them for comets. However, this list – known as the Messier Catalog – would go on to serve a more important function, acting as a milestone in the history of the study of Deep Sky Objects.

However, not all objects in the catalog were first discovered by Charles Messier himself. Some, like the Lagoon Nebula, were observed sooner, owing to the fact that they are visible to the naked eye. This interstellar cloud, which is located in the Sagittarius constellation, has been known of since the late 17th century, and is one of only two star-forming nebulae that is visible to the naked eye from mid-northern latitudes.

Continue reading “Messier 8 (M8) – The Lagoon Nebula”

Messier 6 – The Butterfly Cluster

Welcome back to Messier Monday! We continue our tribute to our dear friend, Tammy Plotner, by looking at Messier 6, otherwise known as NGC 6405 and the Butterfly Cluster. Enjoy!

In the late 18th century, Charles Messier was busy hunting for comets in the night sky, and noticed several “nebulous” objects. After initially mistaking them for the comets he was seeking, he began to compile a list of these objects so other astronomers would not make the same mistake. Known as the Messier Catalog, this list consists of 100 objects, consisting of distant galaxies, nebulae, and star clusters.

This Catalog would go on to become a major milestone in the history of astronomy, as well as the study of Deep Sky Objects. Among the many famous objects in this catalog is M6 (aka. NGC 6405), an open cluster of stars in the constellation of Scorpius. Because of its vague resemblance to a butterfly, it is known as the Butterfly Cluster.

Continue reading “Messier 6 – The Butterfly Cluster”

Messier 5 (M5) – The NGC 5904 Globular Cluster

In the late 18th century, Charles Messier was busy hunting for comets in the night sky, and noticed several “nebulous” objects. After initially mistaking them for the comets he was seeking, he began to compile a list of these objects so other astronomers would not make the same mistake. Known as the Messier Catalog, this list consists of 100 objects, consisting of distant galaxies, nebulae, and star clusters.

Among the many famous objects in this catalog is the M5 globular star cluster (aka. NGC 5904). Located in the galactic halo within the Serpens Constellation, this cluster of stars is almost as old as the Universe itself (13 billion years)! Though very distant from Earth and hard to spot, it is a favorite amongst amateur astronomers who swear by its beauty.

Continue reading “Messier 5 (M5) – The NGC 5904 Globular Cluster”

Why This Weekend is Perfect for a Messier Marathon

This coming weekend presents the first window for 2013 to complete a challenge in the realm of backyard astronomy and visual athletics. With some careful planning, persistence, and just plain luck, you can join the vaunted ranks of those seasoned observers who’ve seen all 110 objects in the Messier catalog… in one night.

Observing all of the objects in Messier’s catalog in a single night has become a bit of a sport over the last few decades for northern hemisphere observers, and several clubs and organizations now offer certificates for the same.  The catalog itself was a first attempt by French astronomer Charles Messier to catalog the menagerie of “faint fuzzies” strewn about the northern hemisphere sky.

Not that Charles knew much about the nature of what he was seeing. The modern Messier catalog includes a grab bag collection of galaxies, nebulae, open and globular clusters and more down to magnitude +11.5, all above declination -35°. Charles carried out his observations from Paris France at latitude +49° north. Unfortunately, this  also means that Messier catalog is the product of Charles Messier’s northern-based vantage point. The northernmost objects in the catalog are Messiers 81 & 82 at declination +69°, which never get above the horizon for observers south of latitude -21°. His initial publication of the catalog in 1774 contained 45 objects, and his final publication contained 103, with more objects added based on his notes after his death in 1817. (Fun fact: Messier is buried in the famous Père Lachaise Cemetery in Paris, site of other notable graves such as those of Chopin and Jim Morrison).

M51, the Whirlpool Galaxy, one of the more photogenic objects in the Messier catalog. (Credit: NASA/Hubble Heritage Project).
M51, the Whirlpool Galaxy, one of the more photogenic objects in the Messier catalog. (Credit: NASA/Hubble Heritage Project).

There’s a fair amount of controversy on Messier’s motivations and methods for compiling his catalog. The standard mantra that will probably always be with us is that Messier was frustrated with stumbling across these objects in his hunt for comets and decided to catalog them once and for all. He eventually discovered 13 comets in his lifetime, including Comet Lexell which passed only 2.2 million kilometres from Earth in 1770.

No one is certain where the modern tradition of the Messier Marathon arose, though it most likely had its roots in the amateur astronomy boom of the 1970s and was a fixture of many astronomy clubs by the 1980s. There are no Messier objects located between right ascension 21 hours 40 minutes  and 23 hours 20 minutes, and only one (M52)  between 23 hours 20 minutes and 0 hours 40 minutes. With the Sun reaching the “0 hour” equinoctial point on the March Vernal Equinox (falling on March 20th as reckoned in Universal Time for the next decade), all of the Messier objects are theoretically observable in one night around early March to early April. Taking into account for the New Moon nearest to the March equinox, the best dates for a weekend Messier marathon for the remainder of the decade are as follows;

Optimal Messier marathon dates for the remainder of the decade. (Compiled by author).
Optimal Messier marathon dates for the remainder of the decade. (Compiled by author).

Note that this year’s weekend is very nearly the earliest that it can occur. The optimal latitude for Messier marathoning is usually quoted as 25° north, about the latitude of Miami. It’s worth noting that 2013 is one of the very few years where the primary weekend falls on or before our shift one hour forward to Daylight Saving time, occurring this year on March 10th for North America.

Students of the Messier catalog will also know of the several controversies that exist within the list. For example, one wide double star in Ursa Major made its way into the catalog as Messier 40. There’s also been debate over the years as to the true identity of Messier 102, and most marathoners accept the galaxy NGC 5866 in its stead. Optics of the day weren’t the most stellar (bad pun intended) and this is evident in the inclusion of some objects but the omission of others. For example, it’s hard to imagine a would-be comet hunter mistaking the Pleiades (M45) for an icy interloper, but curiously, Messier omits the brilliant Double Cluster in Perseus.

M42, the Orion Nebula. (Photo by Author, taken back in the days of ye ole film!)
M42, the Orion Nebula. (Photo by Author, taken back in the days of ye ole film!)

It’s vital for Messier marathoners to run through objects in proper sequence. Most visual observers run these in groups, although Alex McConahay suggests in a recent April 2013 Sky & Telescope article that folks running a photographic marathon (see below) beware of wasting precious time crossing the celestial meridian (a maneuver which requires a telescope equipped with a German Equatorial mount to “flip” sides) hunting down objects. The unspoken “code of the skies” for visual Messier marathoners is that “Go-To” equipped scopes are forbidden. Part of the intended purpose of the exercise is to acquaint you with the night sky via star hopping to the target.

Most observers complete Messier objects in groups. You’ll want to nab M77 and M74 immediately after local dusk, or the marathon will be over before it starts. You’ll then want to move over to the Andromeda Galaxy and the collection of objects in its vicinity before scouring Orion and environs. From that point out, you can begin to slow down a bit and pace yourself through the galaxy groups in Coma Berenices and the Bowl of Virgo asterism. Another cluster of objects stretch out in the sky past midnight along the plane of our Milky Way Galaxy from Sagittarius to Cygnus, and the final (and often most troublesome) targets to bag are the Messier objects in Aquarius and M30 in Capricornus just before dawn. Remember, dark skies, warm clothes, and hot coffee are your friends in this endeavor!

There have been alternate rules or versions of Messier marathons over the years. Some imagers complete one-night photographic messier marathons. There are even abbreviated or expanded versions of the feat. It is also possible to nab most of the Messier catalog with a good pair of binoculars under clear skies. Probably the most challenging version we’ve heard of is sketching all 110 Messier objects in one evening… you might be forgiven for using a Go-To enabled telescope to accomplish this!

Finally, just like running marathons, the question we often get is why. Some may eschew transforming the art of dark sky observing into a task of visual gymnastics. We feel that to run through this most famous of catalogs in an evening is a great way to learn the sky and practice the fast-disappearing art of star hopping. And hey, no one’s saying you can’t take a year or three to finish the Messier catalog… its a big universe, and the New General Catalog (NGC) and Index Catalog (IC) containing thousands of objects will still be waiting. Have YOU seen all 110?

–      A perpetual listing of Messier marathon visibility by latitude by Tom Polakis.

–      An All Sky Map of the Messier catalog.

–      A handy priority list for a Messier marathon compiled by Don Machholz.

Universe Today Guide to the Messier Objects



Well, Tammy’s done it again. Remember the Universe Today Guide to the Constellations? Well now Tammy has completed another monster volume. The Universe Today Guide to the Messier Objects. This is a guide to all 110 Messier Objects, from M1 (the Crab Nebula) to M110 (a satellite galaxy to Andromeda), and everything in between.

In addition to descriptions of the individual Messier Objects, there’s also a nice introduction to the Messier Objects, a guide to doing a Messier marathon, and suggestions for stretching your Messier marathon out to a week.

If you’ve got any questions, comments or feedback, please let us know. I’m sure there are going to be some bugs in there.

Thanks. And thanks again to the wonderful Tammy Plotner for grinding through this monster project.

M1M2M3M4M5M6M7M8M9M10M11M12M13M14M15M16M17M18M19M20M21M22M23M24M25M26M27M28M29M30M31M32M33M34M35M36M37M38M39M40M41M42M43M44M45M46M47M48M49M50M51M52M53M54M55M56M57M58M59M60M61M62M63M64M65M66M67M68M69M70M71M72M73M74M75M76M77M78M79M80M81M82M83M84M85M86M87M88M89M90M91M92M93M94M95M96M97M98M99M100M101M102M103M104M105M106M107M108M109M110

P.S. If you want to use any part of this information for any reason whatsoever, you’ve got my permission. Be my guest. Print them off for your astronomy club, turn it into a PDF and give it away from your site. Republish the guides on your own site. Whatever you like. All I ask is that you link back to Universe Today and the specific page, so people can find out where it came from.