Messier Madness and Super Clusters

Spring is on the way and that means it is time once again for the Messier Marathon.

What is the Messier Marathon you ask?

The Messier Marathon is named after Charles Messier, a French astronomer in the middle 1700s, who preferred to hunt comets.

While hunting for these elusive icy snowballs, Charles kept bumping into celestial objects that looked to him very similar to comets, like the Beehive Cluster and the Orion Nebula region. Remember that optics and telescopes were not of the quality that we enjoy today.

Charles decided to keep a record of these strange celestial objects and ended up with a catalogue of 109 or so deep sky objects including galaxies, nebula and star clusters.

The idea behind the Messier Marathon is to see as many of these objects as possible in a single evening. Not all of the Messier objects are visible from our location, but more than enough to make it an amazing evening of discovery and adventure.

It will take you from sundown until sunup before you are done. The rewards are great and you do not need expensive equipment to do the job.

Many of the Messier objects are visible in a pair of humble 7×50 binoculars and, as for the rest, they are easily visible in an 80mm or larger telescope.

So take some time, an astronomy magazine and a chair and go out and give it a try.

As for what is in the sky tonight, look high in the south and you will find the planet Mars. Though this red planet looks really bright, there is little or no surface detail to be seen in most backyard telescopes. Mars is receding quickly and, as a result, dimming; so enjoy the view while you can.

The planet Saturn can be found in the eastern night sky, in the constellation of Leo. The rings will open a little more until April, presenting a slightly brighter and more interesting view.

Jupiter, Venus, Mercury, Uranus and Neptune are so low in the morning sky that they are barely visible or not at all.

With the coming of spring, my favourite celestial hunting grounds (the Virgo Super Cluster of galaxies) is now in perfect position in the Yukon Night Sky.

Located between the constellations of Virgo and Leo, this cluster of galaxies is quite compact in the amount of space that it resides in, which makes it easier to navigate the night sky.

High power is a definite must and so is a rock solid tripod. This way you can view the spiral arms and the nucleus of each galaxy in detail.

On the other hand, viewing with low power and a wide-field telescope presents an almost 3-D look as the galaxies seem to just float in the eyepiece.

There are galaxies by the bushel to be seen even in the most modest of telescopes. When observing distant galaxies, the larger the telescope, the more impressive the view.

Galaxies of all shapes and sizes abound in this region of space, from large spiral galaxies, irregular and edge-on galaxies, they are all here to be seen.

The one problem a person might have is identifying each one, just because there are so many to see.

From single galaxies, to large clusters, the Virgo Super Cluster absorbs many long evenings.

Clear Skies from James “Deep Sky” Cackette.

High Lights

March 7 New Moon.

March 8 to 12 Mars and the open star cluster M35, only two degrees apart in the night sky

March 9 Daylight Savings begins.

March 14 First Quarter Moon.

March 14 & 15 Moon and Mars only one degree apart.

March 18 & 19 Moon and Saturn make a nice pair in the evening night sky.

March 21 Full Moon.

March 29 Last quarter moon.

James “Deep Sky” Cackette can be reached at [email protected]. See his photo adventures on Facebook at Yukon Night Skies.

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