My Quest for a Messier Certificate by Jon Stone

Wednesday, June 22 2005 @ 02:00 pm EDT

Contributed by: bobmoody

Jon Stone (TexasJagsFan) came to AOAS in January 2005 and immediately wanted to join our club. As we were observing at Coleman Observatory over the weekend of April 1st and 2nd, I watched as he worked on his Messier list, something that only a few other AOAS members have begun to do. Upon asking him to write a story about his efforts at earning his Messier Certificate, he quickly agreed and we began working on this story, he writing and me editing. Jon's enthusiasm and excitement will hopefully inspire those members who've already started their lists to finish them, but it might also encourage others who haven't started a list to begin their own. I have no doubt that Jon will earn his Honorary Messier Certificate on time as described below. Bob

A few years ago when I bought a 2.4" Meade telescope from Wal-Mart, I began using it to observe the moon, and sometimes look at things across a lake that we lived on. Later we moved to Amarillo, TX where I knew someone with the astronomy club there. He showed me several of Messier's objects, and also told me about a list of these objects and a logsheet that you could fill in and send off for a certificate when you had found all 110 of Messier's objects. So, I started the list with my telescope but I was disappointed that I couldn't find any galaxies. Later I was told that I might not be able to find any galaxies in the telescope I started with, and I gave up.

AOAS member Jon Stone at Coleman Observatory with his 8" Celestron Dob in April 2005.
It would be about a year before I would live someplace where there was another local astronomy club. That's when we moved to Van Buren. I attended the January 2005 meeting of the Arkansas Oklahoma Astronomical Society intending on joining where I met Bob Moody and others. I believe it was Bob that I was talking to about wanting to get a bigger telescope. He showed me an ad for Astronomics from where I would eventually buy an 8 inch Celestron Dobsonian. I then decided I could start my Messier list again.

Currently, I have found 23 of the 110 Messier objects, since I re-started on 3/27. Those 23 objects are: M1, M3, M13, M35, M36, M37, M38, M41, M42, M43, M44, M45, M51, M57, M65, M66, M67, M78, M81, M82, M97, M104, and M109.

I started the list on 3/27 by finding M42, Orion's Nebula, and the most recent object that I found on 4/2 were the galaxies M81/82.

The hardest object for me to find so far was M51. It would take me several tries to find it, but when I did my logsheet entry read,
"The galaxy was very faint and was hard to find but not hard to see. There was some structure to the outer parts of M51 connecting to it's companion. The nucleus of M51 was fairly bright."
One of the best objects that I have seen was M81/M82 which I was trying to find by just pointing my telescope to the pointer star in the Big Dipper and moving it up-and-down, left-to-right, sweeping the sky with my eye to the eyepiece. I was using a 25mm eyepiece when I came across two fuzzy objects. I stopped and let my eyes focus on them. My M82 entry reads,

"There is a bright center, I can visually see some structure that seems spiral-like", and the M81 entry reads, "Dimmer than M82, very long like a cigar, with a bright center. It looks like maybe there was some previous action with another galaxy somewhere."

I could also see NGC 3077 in my 9mm eyepiece when I was looking at M81. The funny thing about this observation was that Bob couldn't find these two galaxies and he knew exactly where to look.

UPDATE - Last evening (June 20), I spent nearly the entire night looking at objects throughtout the Sagittarius and Scorpius region of the Milky Way, but I also dipped into other areas while logging all my observations for my Messier Certificate. I used my 32mm eyepiece to find everything but occasionally I would power-up a little with other objects that could stand higher magnifications.

By far, the best objects I viewed all evening were M20, M21, M22, and M24. My logbook entries read,

"M20 - 'Trifid Nebula' - Small but easy to find, located just north of M8; they make a good combination; small circular shape; I could not make out any dust lanes but I thought I did see a slight touch of green color."

"M21 - A very nice open cluster containing about 30 blue stars clustered together near the Trifid Nebula"

"M22 - Very easy to find and quite large, probably larger than M13. Even at 37.5X I could see individual stars, but medium power shows a lot more. Probably the best Globular I've ever seen. Brighter in the center, stars make a halo on the outer edge."

"M24 - An extremely large cluster, the best I have ever seen. A loose cluster that's probably about the size of the full moon. Contained a lot of stars probably about 100 stars all together plus a lot of background stars."

I stayed up all night until I could see the eastern sky brightening before dawn. I found a lot more objects and brought my total count up to 66 "M" objects. I might have found a lot more if I hadn't spent so much time studying everything I found individually and using more power every chance I had. The galaxies I located weren't all that impressive, and most were just little fuzzy balls. If I'd wanted to see fuzzy balls I could just as easily have looked at the lint filter on the dryer.

When I started tonight, I had wanted to find every object in Sagitarius and Scorpius, but I missed several objects due to the amount of time I spent looking so carefully at the better objects in that area of the sky. I'll just have to try again later and finish up these remaining objects while starting on all the other objects in Ophiuchus. Most of the objects I found tonight weren't as hard to find as I had thought they'd be. I hope to finish this list by November of this year.

I'm still enjoying my new telescope because it shows me 100 times more deep space objects than I had ever seen with my smaller telescope. Thanks to Bob, I no longer have to hunch over to find something and view it because of the stand he built for me. Kudos to him!

I enjoy being back where I can attend some club functions because astronomy has always been a natural interest and one of the subjects that I'm seriously considering pursuing in college. This is a nice club and I enjoy being a member. Thanks to Bob and all the other members for their help with various things. Now I'm fully prepared for the rest of my Messier list and for many years of observing to come.

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