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Home > Articles > Observing > Deep Space > Pulling an “All-Nighter”: Inside a Messier Marathon

Pulling an “All-Nighter”: Inside a Messier Marathon
By Art Fritzson - 4/8/2006

Pulling an “All-Nighter”: Inside a Messier Marathon

I decided to try my hand at a Messier Marathon this year – I’d never done one before and I’ve only been observing for a couple of years. If you haven’t tried it or want to compare it with your own experience, here’s the blow by blow of what it was like for me to spend a night looking for 110 objects.

Deciding to Go

I’d made the decision that Sunday or Monday looked like the best shot for the week according to the local Clear Sky Clock (CSC). But at 3:00 Saturday afternoon the skies and forecast are improving rapidly for Saturday night and the forecast for Sunday and the rest of the week is declining. I make the call around 4:00 to give it a try. The guy I'm supposed to go with isn’t available on Saturday so that means doing this alone. I quickly start packing, making last minute decisions on what to bring. I want to focus on using binoculars, but I’d been counting on my buddy bringing a small Televue refractor so I add my 4” Celestron (and the mount, eyepieces, diagonal, adapters, finder, etc) to the pile – that already has my Garrett Optical 25x100s (and its mount), my Oberwerk 15x70s (and its monopod), and my Meade 8x42s. I bring a couple bottles of water, coffee in a small thermos, lots of jackets, sweatshirts, extra socks, extra gloves, a sleeping bag, pillow, my Sky Atlas 2000, my notebook filled with 110 charts pre printed to help me find each object (kind of silly I know – do you really need a chart for m42 AND another one for M43? For m81 AND m82?), portable desk (a tray table), folding chair (for the desk), extra flashlights, extra batteries, a Celestron 17amp power tank (lord knows why – it’s a leftover from my powered equatorial mount days and I just think it might be useful), a really nice lounging chair complete with footrest and pillow (what am I thinking? It’s forecast to be 30 degrees!?), and pile all of it into my little old ’99 BMW. I lust after my wife’s LandCruiser but she has plans for it that evening (sigh).

Go Where?

I'm going to a place called Camp High Road, a Northern Virginia Astronomy Club (NOVAC) site, but not the one scheduled to host the club’s Messier event. That one is further south and its CSC doesn't look as good – I find out later that the club canceled the event because of weather. The weather doesn't look great for me either as I make the 1 hour drive out to the site.
Just waiting for dark....
The directions are perfect (bless you MapQuest) and I follow the dirt road – bottoming out the BMW repeatedly – and roll into the field at 6:08 PM. The clouds have all but disappeared to the west (yea!) and are thinning rapidly elsewhere. I'm the only one there and set up “camp” quickly – all the optical gear is setup around the desk and notebooks – and I’m ready to go by 6:25.

Ready, Set, Go!

At 6:45 I see my first star – Sirius – blinking like crazy. Not a good sign for the seeing quality. And just last week I’d recorded M45 at 6:45 but, tonight there is no sign of ANY other star yet. I keep my fingers crossed, hoping that the rapid clearing trend will continue and also improve transparency and seeing (hey, if you’re wishing, why not think big?). Just then, another NOVAC member, Lyle, shows up and parks nearby. We exchange hellos, ogle each others equipment (he brings a gorgeous C9.25 with a Unistar mount) and he goes to work setting up and I go back to looking for star # 2.

M42, M45

I’m scanning the skies with my 8x42s waiting for the stars of Orion’s belt and I see Aldebaran pop into view. Then the belt stars and, yes there’s Nair al Saif. I swing around the 25x100s and there’s the Great Orion Nebula – sort of. I know it’s there, but it really isn’t dark enough to see a nebular glow. But five minutes later I claim victory and mark my first Messier of the night. I proudly mark the chart “sighted at 6:55 in 8x42s, confirmed glow at 7:00 in 25x100s”. Only 109 more to go! And it sinks in just how big a number 110 is! Never mind. At 7:02 I stumble onto the Pleiades in the 8x42s. I scratch the confirmation onto the chart and swing the 25x100s around and start scanning and in another 4 minutes (takes a while when there are no guides stars visible to the naked eye) I’ve got M45 sighted for a second time. A quick swing back to M42 – the belt is visible there as is Rigel - and it’s easy to see the nebular glow of M42. Still too light to see M43, but I’m sure I’ll swing by this area again.

M74, M77

OK, now it’s getting dark enough in the west to get serious about the hard ones, starting with M74. Using the 8x42s, I quickly find Aries but struggle to find it in the 25x100s. They’re equipped with a Red Dot Finder (RDF) but you need to be able to see the guide star with the naked eye and it’s just barely visible. I finally get it around 7:15 and drop down to Sharatan and Mesathim (6 Ari and 5 Ari; you know, the two at the bottom). At 7:18 it’s dark enough to see 4 Ari and it’s companion and I scan down to Eta Pisces and … nothing. I’m on the right spot, but I just can’t see anything – it’s still too light.

I switch to M77 with an 8x42 sighting of Menkar, then use the RDF to align the 25x100s to Menkar then a “hop” down to Gamma Cetus (also called Kaffaljidhma, but I can’t even pronounce that in my head). At 7:26 I’m sitting on the target looking just left and a little up from Delta Cetus and…I see it. I think. Tap, tap, tap on the binoculars and, yes, the grey smudge moves with the stars instead of staying with my eyes. It’s a little more “there” in averted vision. I swing around the C102 with a 7mm Nagler T6 and at 7:35 I mark it for a second time.

I’m so emboldened by this that I swing the C102 back around to look for M74. I settle on Eta Pisces at 7:39 and swing up just a bit. I swap out the 7mm for a 17mm Nagler T4 and wait. Four minutes later, I’ve got it. There’s no doubt. There’s a “smudge” there that moves with the stars when I move the scope and it’s right where it should be. A great feeling, because this may be the hardest one of the night. I switch to the 25x100s, but nothing there. Did I really see it? I switch back to the C102 and, yes, it is clearly there and just beyond the reach of the 25x100s. Maybe if I keep watching. I hang out there watching as long as I can, but never see it in the binoculars. Time to move on.

M31, M32, M110

I’ve never spent much time with Andromeda. The time of year that’s best to observe it is always filled with lots of other activity and by the time I remember that, yes, I’d resolved to do it this year, it’s already in the tall trees immediately behind my house. So here it was in a clear and darkening sky and a blind man could have reached out with his cane and touched it. At 7:55 I’ve got it in the 25x100s. But separating out M32 and M110 was a bit more challenging. At first I see the single glow and think to myself “if the other two are buried inside, I’m never gonna see’em.” So I swing around the C102, pop the 7mm Nagler back in and look. The field is reversed left to right but M31 does not fill the FOV. It’s a nice pleasant vertically elongated glow in the center leaning a little to the left. I swing slightly to the right (to the left in the FOV) and there on the left edge is the smudge I’m looking for – the glow of M110. I swing back and study the “main” glow some more – it is centered, and elongated but I realize now that it’s not going to be as big as the ovals drawn on charts – and thus the other objects are not buried inside it. Once I know where to look, M32 is just right there. It’s been there all along, I just haven’t been looking. I confirm all three of them in my notes and then, a minute later, do the same with the 25x100s.

M33

M33 is a killer. It says Mag 6.3 but it’s closer to where the sun set and now it’s so low on the horizon. I’d star hopped over from Metallah (the bottom of the Triangulum) and I’m staring at exactly where this thing should be in the middle of four very dim stars. Maybe, maybe. At 8:15 I’m still saying “maybe”. At 8:20 I’m sketching what I see and convincing myself that it’s there and I claim victory. I swing over the C102 and can’t see it. I go back to the 25x100s and can’t see it. I scratch off the victory and, after almost 20 minutes, give up and move on. My first loss of the night. I’m tired of this and want to try some easy stuff.

M79

I swing the 25x100s over to Lepus and smile. This is not a constellation I get to see very often with all the obstructions in my neighborhood. I use the RDF to Nihal and hop down to HR 1771 slightly below and to the right of M79. And there it is – easy as pie. It’s 8:26.

M76

Okay, back to the hard stuff. RDF to 51 Andromeda (“top right” of the constellation in this setting) and hop up to Phi Perseus. M76 should be just up and to the right in the FOV. It isn’t. I look with averted vision. Nothing. I swing around the C102 and look so hard I’m getting kidney beaning in the Nagler. I push back the frustration I feel, take a few deep breaths and then a few more. Oh yeah! Try hyperventilating! A trick I learned from my flying days to momentarily improve night vision. So I’m huffing and puffing (I wonder if Lyle thinks I’m having a heart attack?) and, sure enough, at 8:39, there it is. Never did get it in the 25x100s, but that’s OK. The hard stuff is mostly over – at least until morning.

M41, M93, M103, M34

RDF to Sirius, hop down to 15,17,19 CMa and then over to M41 – pretty! RDF to Azmidiske (7 Pup) then hop up to M93. RDF to Ruchbah (Delta Cas) and there’s M103. I make a note to go back when I have more time and do some serious looking at NGC 663 and vicinity – it looks inviting. RDF to Algol and I hop over to M34. Four easy ones in less than 15 minutes.

M42 (again), M43, M45 (again)

I revisit M42 to pick up the dimmer M43. They’re both clear and the overall effect in the binoculars in these dark skies is just mesmerizing. I swing by M45 again and can see its nebular glow as well.

M46, M47

I do an RDF to where I think M46 should be and land on M47. I squeeze them both into the FOV and move on. Well, I actually spend about a minute or so – on a night like this, this pair rivals the double cluster in its effect.

M78

I pop over to Alnitak and hop up one FOV and there’s M78. I drop back down to the left of Alnitak and spend a good ten minutes with the 25x100s and with the C102 looking for hints of the Flame Nebula. Nope, can’t see it. I recently read of someone in the Midwest seeing the Flame Nebula in a pair of 22x100s through a window(!) – I guess the idea of “dark skies” is all relative. Will have to read up on filters and maybe drag the dob out here one night.

M50, M1, M36, M37, M38, M35, M48

I use the RDF to get to 19 Monoceros and hop down to M50. I then RDF over to Zeta Taurus (the tip of the bull’s left horn) and M1 is the clearest I’ve ever seen. It’s turned into a beautiful if cold night – my toes are starting to freeze and I pour myself some coffee from the thermos. At 9:15 I look at the Aurigaes – M36, M38, and M37 in that order. I pick up the 8x42s and look at these in pairs – M36, M38 and M36, M37. Pretty. I then RDF just to the right of Propus where I think M35 will be and sure enough it’s there. At 9:20 I RDF over to the three stars between 1 and 2 Hya – an easy sight and an easy set of hops to M48. I notice the straight lines of dim stars that seem to hold M48 inside a little “V”. I take a short break and spend some time looking at Saturn in my C102 with both the 7mm Nagler and a TMB/Burgess 4mm. The seeing isn’t good enough for the 4mm, but the 7 looks great. Lyle shows me Saturn in his C9.25 and I’m impressed – no color and razor sharp with jet black backgrounds. Nice scope that C9.25.

M44, M67

OK, this is embarrassing. I can’t really see Cancer from my usual observing grounds so I always use some other reference – lately Saturn’s been a good marker for M44. But here I was in dark skies and I look up and see Cancer. But for the life of me I can’t find M44. I go up and down between Iota and Delta and it just isn’t there. I find something that looked interesting right next to Iota, but it isn’t M44. So I cheat and use Saturn and, of course it brings me right to M44. Hmmm. I look again and realize that I’d mistaken Acubens (Alpha Cnc) for Iota Cancer and made the inverted “Y” out of Zeta, Theta, and Eta Hydra (could be a new singing group?). The “interesting” thing I noticed next to what I thought was Iota was actually M67. Oh well.

M81, M82, M108, M97

Easy to find off the end of Dubhe, M81 and M82 are the only Galaxies I routinely look at from home. Tonight they are easy to find and very well defined with M82 being more elongated and M81 being the brighter of the pair. I head over to M108 right off of Merak and struggle to find it. It turns out to be easier to locate M97 first and then study the M108 spot with averted vision (and a little heavy breathing) until it shows up. Afterward, I take a peek through Lyle’s C9.25 at M81 and 82 with a 41mm Panoptic – what a sweet combination that is and the definition is hugely improved over what I can see.

M52

I was flipping through charts and remembered that I wanted to try M52 in the evening. It should be okay to wait till morning, but I wanted to get it out of the way. So I RDF to Beta Cas and hop my way over through clusters galore to find M52. It was harder than it should have been – at 10:00, M52 was probably as low in the sky as it was going to get. I also take a short break and reorder my charts. I adopt an ordering scheme that I found at a web site called cosmicvoyage.com and it seems to work better than what I had been using – which is something the computer figured out that seems to vector me all over the sky.

M65, M66, M95, M96, M105

I head over to Chertan in Leo and do the five galaxies in the area. I start with M66, the easiest to see, and then wait until M65 shows itself. Sometimes you just have to keep looking. Similarly, M96 is easier than M95 and M105 is the hardest – it’s easy to confuse with NGC 3384 which is right next to it. Finally, I get them all checked off but I realize that the seeing is not all that great and the Virgo Cluster is going to be a challenge. So I head elsewhere hoping that the seeing will improve later.

M109, M40, M106, M94, M63, M101, M51, M102

M109 is right off of Phad (or Phecda or 64 Uma), but it’s dim and Phad is bright. I have to push Phad out of the FOV and wait until I can catch a glimpse of M109. I hop over to Megrez to see M40, the silly double nearby that many people seem to discount as a Messier - but at least it’s easy to find. M106 I struggle with – it’s bright and easy to see, but finding my way there is difficult as everything is right at the zenith and it’s hard to maintain orientation. M94 is a bright Galaxy and is easy to spot from a quick RDF to Cor Caroli. M63 is easy to squeeze into the FOV with a quick hop over to 20 CVn. M101 is hard to spot and it really shouldn’t be – I RDF to the point of an equilateral triangle with Alkaid and Mizar and immediately recognize the area but struggle to see M101 - it's several minutes before I can confirm it. I always wonder about this one - its magnitude is 8.3 so it ought to be easy, but I always have to struggle to see it. By contrast M51 (at Mag 8.9) is an easy hop off the other side of Alkaid and is easy to spot. M102 is an RDF to Iota Draco then two circles up and to the right. At Mag 10.7 (according to my now suspect charts) it’s still easier for me to spot than M51 is. Go figure.

M53, M64, M3

M53 and M3 are like old friends. They’re the first globular clusters I’d ever seen and, now, finding them is a piece of cake. I sweep up the line between Arcturus and Mufrid and keep going until I sort of bang into M53. It’s a pretty easy cottonball to spot. From here it’s an easy hop up to M64 using Alpha Com as a starting point and 35 Com as a stopping point and reference. Coming down to M3 from M64 I get a little lost – it’s late, I’m tired and cold. Back down to Arcturus and I do an RDF to the bright (tonight) variable 9 Boo and go up two FOVs from there. Easy to see.

The Virgo Cluster – Intermission

I’m really dreading this part. I had done the whole cluster only a week or so earlier and it was easy – but it was 50 degrees, clear and the seeing was much better. Now, my neck is sore, my feet are numb and Lyle is talking about leaving in an hour or so. Maybe I ought to do the same. He and I take a break and sit in his car with the heat on. I share my coffee with him and we swap astronomy stories – what scopes we’d owned, what we liked about them, how our families deal with our hobby. It’s nice to pass the time, but after a little while I’m antsy to get started again. The break has rejuvenated me and I tackle the Virgo Cluster with renewed optimism. It’s getting colder, but I throw on yet another sweatshirt under my parka and move ahead.

M98

I’m using a new order tonight and it starts with M98 – not my favorite and one of the hardest (for me) to see. I start with an RDF to Denebola and in three hops I’m in position where M98 should be. But I can’t see anything. I’m tempted to use the C102, but it’s just too awkward to use at elevations near zenith. I sketch what I’m seeing and compare it to what I should be seeing and just keep looking. I try rolling back the eyecups to bring my eyes closer without getting pressured by the cups and I use my hands to block any extra light. I try the hyperventilating trick and finally, just barely, it shows itself. Once I’ve got it, it’s easy to keep seeing it and I rest up for the next one. This might take a long time.

M99, M100, M85, M84, M86, M87, M89, M90, M88, M91, M58, M59, M60, M49

By comparison, M99 is a piece of cake – easy to see and with lots of guide stars nearby. M100 is about the same – these two are Mag 10.1 and 10.4 vs the 10.9 of M98 – does half a Mag make that much difference? I guess so. M85 is a big step away but 11 Com is a bright star to keep things aligned. At Mag 10, M85 is bagged without a struggle.
Finishing up the Virgo Cluster
M84 is all the way back down and I retrace my steps to M99 and head over. There’s not a lot of guide stars here and I don’t want to get lost so I move slowly. Using dim stars as guides works quite well as long as I check and recheck against my charts. I find M84 without incident. M86 is easier still and right next to M84. M87 has some good guide stars nearby and I see a little star right at the top of the galactic glow. M89 is also nearby and takes a bit longer to confirm, but rolling the eyecups back again seems to help.

It’s now midnight and I take a short break, refill my now lukewarm coffee and take a short walk to unfreeze myself and especially my toes. My wife calls on the cell phone and we chat while I’m rearranging charts again. The wind get under them and I have to go chasing charts down in the dark and somehow manage to get them all back into place.

OK so it’s up to M90 – still in the FOV from M89. I hadn’t realized they were so close. A tiny shift and I can see it in the middle of three other stars. I think the seeing might be improving. Up and to the right is M88 and M91 right nearby. M88 is OK but I really struggle with M91. Patience and averted vision pay off and I check off M91. M58 is a short step down with good guide stars and I spot it quickly. M59 and M60 are nearby and close together. M60 is much easier to spot but, with patience, M59 shows itself – each of them is below and to the left of little guide stars. M49 is a long ways away (relatively speaking; in the cluster that means more than a single FOV hop) but has lots of guide stars and is (again relatively) very bright and easy to spot. M61 is further down but also with a lot of guide stars. It takes a bit longer to spot, but that’s it for the cluster. Whew.

Lyle’s packing up to leave. He stops by to chat for a few minutes before he leaves and, at my request, takes a few pictures. I’m done with the cluster, so even the flash doesn’t bother me.

M104, M68

I do an RDF to Algorab in Corvus and hop up two bright stars to a little cluster that’s just to the right of the Sombrero. At Mag 9.1, it’s easy to spot. I then drop down to Kraz in Corvus and drop two FOVs landing on M68. At Mag 7.3 this globular cluster is a sight for (literally) sore eyes. I hadn’t realized how tired my eyes were from looking at all those Mag 10 galaxies until I saw this.

M83

OK, this one is bothering me. I use Gamma Hya as an RDF starting point and my chart shows R Hya as an almost equally bright star nearby – except it isn’t there. I waste lots of time trying to figure out where I am other than where I think I am and finally realize that everything else lines up, it’s just one missing star. Just one missing star? But stars don’t go missing. I let it go, figuring it’s a chart error (it is) and drop down four FOVs for an easy sighting of M83.

Nap Time

It’s 12:30 and time to move over to the summer objects. Except they’re not up yet. I climb into my car and try to sleep – I set the alarm timer for an hour and a half. The wind has quieted and the heat feels good but sleep doesn’t come. After about 25 minutes I go for a walk along the dirt path that runs through this field. To the Northwest I can see the lights of Purcellville cast a glow into the sky and to the east, the glow of the Washington DC metro area is unmistakable. I finally start to relax and try again for a little sleep. The car has warmed up and I doze off for about a half hour. At 1:30 I head back out again.

M5

Jupiter is high in the south when I go hunting for M5. I spend a few minutes with the C102 admiring the view of Jupiter and testing the seeing through different eyepieces. This little Celestron has served me well. I bought it on AstroMart and have taken it all over – it’s my stock traveling scope and has even found itself in the luggage bays of airliners when there wasn’t enough room for carry on luggage. I’ve thought about upgrading to something nicer - maybe one of those smaller semi-APOs with a Crayford that everyone’s selling. Seeing the purple fringing on Jupiter reminds me of that but this scope would be hard to part with - it’s been around too long and served too well to just get rid of it.

Anyway, there’s not a lot of bright guides around M5 so I start with Unukalhai in Serpens Caput and work my way over. I make one long hop and see 5 Ser and M5 is sitting right there.

M13, M92, M57, M56

This one, M13, is too easy – I aim the RDF a third the way back from Eta Hercules toward Zeta Her and land right on it. This is my favorite glob but neither the binoculars nor the C102 do it justice. This needs a light bucket. I just have to get a portable dob.

I do the same thing with M92 pointing a little more than a third the way back from Iota Her to Eta Her. It pops into view. And the same with M57 pointing halfway between Beta and Gamma Lyra. The little dim white disc of the Ring is there but, unlike the last time I saw it, I can’t see brightening at the edge. I switch to the C102, but still can’t enhance the definition. I try this trick one more time with M56 by aiming halfway between Gamma Lyr and Albireio but I get lost in the thicket of stars in Cygnus. I drop down to Albireio (pausing to admire the coloring of this prettiest of all doubles) and work my way back up spotting the large “V” shaped asterism to the upper left of M56 and check off another glob.

M29

Cygnus is a busy place, but finding your way around is easy. At the cross is 37-Gamma Cyg. Making an easy triangle with it is 34 Cyg and … M29. Another one gets crossed off my list. From Deneb, it’s a long hop to M39, and I can’t see anything in between. It’s still too early and Cygnus is still too low in the sky. I have to be patient. I force myself to take another hour break and even doze a little in the car.

M39, M27, M71

When I start again, it’s close to 3:00AM and I know I’m on the home stretch. Now I can see and RDF to Rho or Pi 2 Cyg – together they make another easy triangle this time with M39. I mark it on the list and move on.

Back to Albireio and hop my way down toward the Dumbbell. It takes five little hops and lots of concentrations, but the nebula is very visible when I arrive. It’s then a short hop to Gamma Sagitta and one FOV over is the globular cluster M71 – harder to see but visible with a little patience.

M107, M12, M10, M14

Now I turn to the Southern Sky again and this really is the home stretch. It takes me no time to key off Zeta Ophiuchus and spot M107 – globs are easy. I then jump up to Marfic (Lambda Oph) and in three hops I can see M12. Two more little hops and I’ve got M10. I then use the RDF and aim one third the way from Gamma Oph to Sabik (Eta Oph) and land right on top of M14. Globs are easy.

M4, M80

Down to Scorpius and aim the RDF for a triangle between Antares and Alniyat (Sigma Sco). At Mag 5.4 M4 is easy to spot. But it is low in the sky and the glow from DC tends toward the south from where I am. M80 is harder to spot. When I do see it, it appears smaller than the last few and even at Mag 7.3 it’s not much to look at in this sky.

M9, M19

I aim the RDF one third the way down and a little left of the line from Sabik to Theta Oph. I find the little triangle of stars and there is M9 just to the right. I then try to RDF to Theta Oph and inadvertently go to the double at 36 Oph. Once I figure out where I am, it's a shorter hop to the right to get to an easily found M19.

M62, M7, M6

An RDF to Epsilon Sco allows me to track back up and to the left and then land on M62. But now I have to go even lower and Scorpius is not high at all where I am. I find Lesath and Shaula and just slide slowly over to M7 and up to M6 – both of which leap out at me despite the low elevation and the glow of the city.

M11, M26, M16, M17, M18

Now I head up for the last batch starting with M11. I RDf to Lambda Aquila then slide right to pick up the two bright stars and then M11. From there it’s over to Epsilon and Delta Scutum and M26 is in the FOV. A short hop to Gamma Scutum and then drift up and to the right until I see M16 – “cluster with nebulosity”. I come down 1 FOV and see M17. This may be the find of the night for me. I’d never done any serious observing of M17, but tonight it looks amazing - the cluster to the upper left, the nebula angling up to the upper right. I want to spend more time here, but not this morning – it’s almost 4:00 and time is running out. In the same FOV I can see the M18 cluster.

M24?, M25, M25, M23, M8, M20, M21

I tried for M24 and, in retrospect, it was pretty obvious that I was looking at it. But I hadn’t read up on it before hand and my chart said it was a tiny 5’ object with Mag 12.2 (another chart failure – my fault). I looked into this massive cloud of stars (M24) looking for this tiny dim object and cursing the name of Charles Messier – is this some cosmic joke? I imagined this dialogue between he and his wife:

“Charlie, Mr. Delisle is here and he wants to know if you’ve finished the next batch of objects for that list of yours yet?”
“Tell him I’ve only got 23 objects so far”
“But Charlie, he says he’ll only pay for them by the dozen. Why don’t you just make one more up, a dim one, and tell everyone that it’s in a bright part of the sky where no one can see except you and your magic telescope?”
“Oh all right”

I give up looking for M24 – how can I find it in the middle of (M24) this cloud of stars?

By contrast sliding one FOV down and to the left brings me to the middle of M25 – an easy catch. Moving back to the cloud “hiding” M24, I try to slide 2 FOVs to the right to find M23. Instead I get lost – I’m tired and making mistakes. So I RDF up to Xi Serpens Cauda and work my way down in five little hops (no mistakes now) to land on M23.

Two hops down and I see M21, I think, but actually land on M8 and (fortunately) recognize where I am. The Lagoon shows it’s beautiful luminosity mixed with that sword like structure glittering with jewels – another scene to get mesmerized by, but it’s time to go. Quickly up to the Trifid (M20), easy and pretty with only a hint of nebulosity and finally to the M21 cluster – easy to see.

M22, M69, M70, M54

Not quite done, I’ve got to dive into Sagittarius. Three little hops and I’m on Lambda Sgr. One hop left reveals a big “cotton ball” (M22) between two sets of “guard stars”. Carefully swing down and to the right and … get lost again. RDF to Kaus Australis (bottom right star of the teapot) then follow the dim trail up and to the left. It takes a lot of looking but there’s a little glob with a star at its very top edge (M69). Back down to that little trail and keep going left until it peters out at … where M70 should be. But this is really low on the horizon and the transparency is not great. I fold back the eyecups again, stare, tap, averted peeks, and yes, I can definitely see it. It’s 4:23 AM. One more to go down here further to the left, a bit more than halfway to Ascella. Surprisingly, M54 pops right into view – moments of good seeing come to the rescue.

M55, M75

I take one quick look for M55 and I know I’m not going to find it. I can find a few guide stars, but the sky is just starting to lighten and it’s just too low on the horizon. Same thing for M75. I go back and forth between them and get a little closer to finding M55, but never see it.

M15, M2, M72, M73, M30

M15 is easy – an RDF to Enif and then up three FOVs and there it is. For M2 I have to guess the RDF aim at Beta Aqr, but I hit it first try and three hops – left, up, left – and I’ve got this last glob. M72 I can get close to but I just can’t see it. M73 I think I see but can’t repeat – so I’m not sure and it doesn’t “count”. M30 is just out of the question – can’t see it from here.

Finish

So it’s 5:00 AM – Venus has risen some time earlier and the Moon’s pretty crescent is starting to show through the trees. I’m beat. I spend a few minutes admiring the moon in my C102 and then start packing things up. It’s been a long night.

How did I do? 102 objects found in the Garrett 25x100s – all but M74, M33, M76, M55, M75, M72, M73, and M30. I gave myself credit for M24 even though, at the time, I thought I’d missed it. Two of the missed objects, M74 and M76 I found in the C102 bringing my total to 104. Not a bad night’s work.

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