Binocular Messier and the AL Observing Program


March is the time of the year when the Messier Marathon is possible.  This is also a great time to get started on your Binocular Messier observing program.

A very useful resource (I would say essential) for observational astronomy is Sky and Telescope’s Pocket Sky Atlas.  It is available from many sources for less than $20.

You may already have a set of binoculars that will allow you to complete the observing program.  If you don’t, a simple 10×50 set will cost around $30.

Here is a link to a site that shows a suggested order to observe the objects, as in “Which one should I look for next?”

The first two objects to observe are the galaxies M74 & M77.

M74 & M77 are easier to get earlier in March than they will be a few weeks later because then they will be lower in the sky at sunset.  So, read up on what is required to observe and what you need to write down for each object and be prepared for the next clear evening.  You can get both these objects easily in an hour if you have done your research on how to find these objects in the sky ahead of time.

After you get these two, the next object on the list is M31, which is easy and much higher in the sky so you could get it that same night as well as M32 and M110.  You will be on your way to getting a cool pin and certificate.

But more importantly, you will be building skills in locating objects in the sky using a star chart that will be highly rewarding.

One last tip, March evenings can be cold and blustery.  When the wind is howling, the temperatures are below freezing, but the sky is clear and dark, many people would be tempted to stay inside where it is warm and cozy.

These first objects will be low on the western horizon (M77, M74)  If it is windy, you could park your car at a site that has a clear horizon to the west such that the passenger window is oriented so you can sit in the driver’s seat and look at the sky with the binoculars.  Crank up the heat, roll down the passenger window and scan the sky till you find the object you are looking for.  I did the entire binocular list this way (and through the moon roof of my SUV while staying warm and cozy and being able to listen to the radio!)

I wish you success as you continue to hone your skills in finding objects in the night sky!

Arlen Raasch

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