Sport: Extreme Stargazing

For anyone who has tried unsuccessfully (like me) to find familiar stars in well-known constellations through a telescope, the competition that David Freedman describes sounds impossible. The "sport" is to see how many of the 110 celestial objects in the Messier catalog you can locate and identify during a single night of observation. These objects represent the life's work of Charles Messier, an eighteenth- century Frenchman who, with a simple telescope, searched for comets as a hobby. While looking for them (he found some), he also discovered 110 galaxies, star clusters, and nebulae. Theoretically, it is possible to see them all in one night - it has to be a night in mid-to-late March - if you start when the sun sets and end after it rises, have no clouds, and are both lucky and skillful. It has been done, but it ain't easy. Freedman does an excellent job of describing the hunt, which is called the Messier Marathon.

Pick Attribution: 

David H. Freedman

Publication Date: 
Saturday, January 1, 2000