Messier Marathoners: If not already done so, please email us your results (2001 or earlier)


Messier Marathon is a term describing the attempt to find as many Messier objects as possible in one night. Depending on the location of the observer, and season, there is a different number of them visible, as they are not evenly distributed in the celestial sphere. There are heavily crowded regions in the sky, especially the Virgo Cluster and the region around the Galactic Center, while other regions are virtually empty of them. In particular, there are no Messier objects at all at Right Ascensions 21:40 to 23:20, and only the very northern M52 is between RA 21:40 and 0:40. This chance effect leads, at considerably low northern latitudes on Earth (best around 25 degrees North), to the chance to observe all 110 Messier objects in one night! This opportunity occurs once every year, around mid- to end-March; the best time to try is of course when the Moon is near its new phase. For the upcoming years until 2039, we give best Messier Marathon dates here.

Note: Most Messier Marathoners accept NGC 5866 as M102, either in account of historical evidence, or at least as substitute accepted for the Messier Marathon, and thus arive at actually 110 different objects. We recommend to do so, but you decide what you want to do.

Messier Marathon was invented independently by several North American and perhaps one Spanish amateur astronomers and groups, in the 1970s. It was probably first in the night of March 23/24 that Gerry Rattley from Dugas, Arizona, completed the list and hunted down all 110 Messier objects in one night. This is however possible only under exceptionally good observing conditions, and at a preferred location. Anyway, some Messier Marathon tips may help to be [even] more successful with this endeavor, i.e., see one of a few objects more.

The Messier Marathon history can be found in Don Machholz's booklet, The Messier Marathon Observer's Guide, which moreover gives a most useful proposition for the search sequence. It also points out that less complete Messier Marathons may be run at every time in the year, the percentage depending on location and time.

Southerners may prefer other marathons. For the time around September each year, there is another 110-object marathon for mid-northern observers, the Messier Plus Marathon (compiled by Wally Brown and Bob Buckner). Experienced observers have compiled more massive lists for marathoning up to over 500 objects a night; Don Machholz reports that he hunted down 599 deep-sky splendors in one night !

Since their invention, Messier Marathons had to face some opposition. As Don Machholz points out, the major complaint is that "rushing through a Messier [or other] list does not allow to study each" object seriously. However, as nothing prevents you from returning to them, and studying them with more time, in other nights, "such criticism can be ignored, since the Messier Marathon is not designed for everyone. The critic can spend the night looking at a shorter list of wonders. A counterpoint to this resistance is that the Marathoner will see nearly all the Messier Catalogue in one night -- many amateur astronomers [and even more professionals, believe me - hf :-)] never see the whole catalogue in their whole lifetime. Additionally, one's searching and locating skills, necessary in most aspects of astronomy, are sharpened during the Marathon. The benefit of seeing, in one night, the major building blocks of our Galaxy: open and globular clusters, diffuse and planetary nebulae, along with other galaxies, cannot be ignored. Finally, there is a satisfaction of working with others toward a common goal, and then finally achieving it [hopefully !]." Rumours say that there are some hardliners who feel the same satisfaction when they do it alone..

Marathons are of course enriched if other appealing celestial events can fill in the pauses which normally occur if you have hunted down everything you can at a time, and wait for the morning objects to rise. In 1997, the outstanding naked-eye comet Hale-Bopp (C/1995O1) gave an extraordinary spectacle exactly at Messier Marathon time in March and April, to celebrate the Messier Marathon's 20th birthday, similar to 1996's Hyakutake (C/1996B2). In 1998, there was no such bright comet, but a considerable supernova, SN 1998S in NGC 3877 (in Ursa Major), had timely occured and brightened up to 12th magnitude to enrich the Messier Marathon. We don't know in advance what extras will give future Messier Marathons additional value, but intend to provide the relevant information here as soon as it is available. Check for more info on the current Messier Marathon 2001.

Another common extension of the Messier Marathon is to add a solar system marathon, i.e. to try to observe as many of the 8 planets besides Earth during the Messier Marathon night (1999 and 2000 had the opportunity to find all 8, 2001 might be worth another attempt).

There have been several propositions to make the Messier Marathon more challenging for those who do it repeated times. An interesting proposition was brought to my attention by Tom Hoffelder one of the Messier Marathon inventors. He points out that he and his friend Greg Zentz, who has also completed a number of Marathons, came up with the idea of doing it completely from memory. This would mean no star charts or notes of any kind, only a list of the objects in order of search. They are thinking of trying it and calling it "M cubed" (Messier Memory Marathon).

Another interesting possibility is running a photographic Messier Marathon. This was, to our knowledge, first undertaken by Tim Hunter and Dan Knauss of Grasslands Observatory, Arizona in March 1988; see their report.

Messier Marathon Search Sequence

Here are the links to the Messier Marathon Search Sequence List in various formats, the sequence taken from Don Machholz's book The Messier Marathon Observer's Guide. Select the form you would like to view this list: Slightly different sequences and other Messier Marathon related stuff have been published in recent years:

We collect actual Messier Marathon observer's results !
Please notify me if you'd like to have your result/score/report/link to be added !

If you have observed all Messier objects, even not in one night all together, we encourage you to announce this fact on your hompage in the web. You are then granted the right to use a specific logo certifying that you have observed all 110 Messier objects.

The Messier Marathon Homepage has been selected as the San Antonio Astronomy Association - Site of the Week of March 7, 1997

Hartmut Frommert (
Christine Kronberg (

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Last Modification: 3 Mar 1999, 12:00 MET