President’s Message – March 2004

Posted On March 1, 2004

Time flies by fast, especially when the deadline for material for the Sirius Astronomer is the 15th of the month before each issue – which means that I should be talking about things a month and a half or more out from when I’m writing. So, I guess I should have mentioned the Messier Marathon in the February PM – hopefully, we won’t have any glitches with the printer or the Post Office in March, and you’ll get this long before the Anza Star Party. With that hope in mind, kicking off our spring events…

The Messier Marathon

When I was making the transition from armchair to observational astronomy a few years back, I noticed a number of books at OPT that referred to “Messier Objects.” I could see from the pictures that these were fuzzies of various sorts, and remember thinking that this was a surprisingly accurate but not particularly scientific-sounding way of describing these things – you have your planets, your stars, and your “messier objects.” I was a bit disappointed to learn that this is just a fortuitous conjunction of unrelated items, and the classification owes its name to Charles Messier, who collected the information for his “not a comet” list of things that looked like they could have been comets in the telescopes available at the time. There are two times of the year when you can see all 110 Messier Objects in one night, right around the two equinoxes. Theoretically at least, fall is as good a time for a Messier Marathon as spring – but almost everyone does it in spring, and so do we.

As usual, our Messier Marathon is set with the March Anza Star Party. This means that it’s on March 20, which is early enough in the season that the nights are still long, giving us a better shot at getting all 110 objects on the list. As it happens, the 20th is right on the new moon – so, moonwise, conditions should be excellent. If the weather cooperates, a great time should be had by all.

What do you need to do to take part? Basically, come out to Anza with whatever you choose to observe with for the Marathon – some people have been known to try it with binoculars or even naked-eye, but most prefer more light-gathering capability (i.e. a telescope of some sort). The telescopes that Messier and his colleagues used weren’t all that good by today’s standards, so even a small telescope can find the Messier Objects; this isn’t an event where you really need the big “light buckets,” though, of course, there’s no reason they can’t be used! The Kuhn will be throwing its 22 inches into the fray, and people are welcome to “do” the Marathon up at the observatory (we also expect to have at least one of the LX200s running).

There will be forms available at the observatory and at Anza House, listing the objects in the suggested order for finding them, or you can bring your own. Remember that there is limited time to catch those in the west right after sunset before they set in their turn, and limited time to catch the ones in the east at the end of the night before they’re lost in skyglow from the rising sun – those are the two major “crunch” points, but there are other challenges, such as wading through all of the Virgo galaxies (this is particularly tough for people who star hop to find them, as so many of them look alike in the eyepiece – those using automated systems tend to take it on faith that a particular galaxy is what the system says it is). As you find the different objects, you check them off on the form (the truly dedicated note the time for each one) and you turn it in at the end of the Marathon – and make sure that your name is on the form before you turn it in! Those who participate and turn in their forms will get an official certificate showing how many “M-Objects” they found and that they took part in this astronomical spring game. You don’t have to find all of the objects to turn in the form – turn it in showing all that you did find, and you can challenge yourself to do even better next year!

If you’ve never tried a Messier Marathon, you may have trouble believing that it’s a lot of fun and worth doing, but most people who’ve done one are determined to do it again and do it better – or to do it and increase the challenge level (e.g. by going from a “goto” system to star hopping). It’s a great way to see objects that you might otherwise never visit – some of them are well worth the visit and may make you want to come back to them when you have more time. It’s also a good way to test your planning and finding skills and your sense of the sky – the order shown on the form isn’t by any means the only way you can run your Marathon, and it may not be the best order for your particular location. And this is very much a viewers’, as opposed to photographers’, event – there aren’t many large-scale events like this in the world of amateur astronomy where the main emphasis is on what you can see through the eyepiece.

There are a number of excellent books out there to help you plan your Marathon and help you find the objects (Harvard Pennington’s The Year-Round Messier Marathon Field Guide and Don Machholz’s Messier Marathon Observer’s Guide or his updated and expanded version, The Observing Guide to the Messier Marathon, are just the start of the excellent resources out there), and a lot of information is available on the Internet. An excellent site for information, lists and links is the Messier Marathon Homepage at, and AAAA has information and Mr. Machholz’s viewing lists available at For more information about our local Marathon, you can contact me or our coordinator, Doug Millar, at; Doug’s also the person who ultimately should get your completed Marathon form, which you can turn in at the observatory or to the box that should be set up at Anza House at the March star party, or you can turn in at the April or May general meeting, or you can mail to Doug care of the club’s P.O. Box.

This is always a fun event out at Anza, but you don’t have to go out there to take part, and you don’t have to do it on March 20. Anytime in late March or early April should be good, though it always seems to me to be more fun when you have a bunch of other people around who are trying it at the same time. However, whenever and wherever you do your Marathon – good luck, and have fun!

Date Change for the April General Meeting

In case you missed the notice elsewhere in the Sirius Astronomer and on the website, we had to change the meeting date for the April general meeting. The meeting will be on the 3rd Friday of the month, April 16, not on its usual 2nd Friday of the month. This is because Chapman University is shutting down the power to most of the campus on our usual meeting night, including Hashinger Hall, where we meet. As people who have been to recent meetings have probably noticed, there’s a lot of construction going on at Chapman right now, and we understand that the power shut-down is related to that.

In Appreciation of Chapman University

For those of you who may not know much about our club history, Chapman University has been exceptionally generous over the last twenty years or more in allowing us regular use of the Irvine Auditorium in Hashinger Hall for our monthly meetings, as well as space in the auditorium to house our library and to store the equipment and supplies we need for the meetings. It has also allowed us full use of the audio-visual equipment in the auditorium, and been helpful with special projects, such as when Liam Kennedy worked with the university staff to set up an Internet link for the demonstration of the Telescopes In Education program at one of our meetings a year or so ago. Up to a couple years ago, the university also hosted our website.

Chapman’s generosity to us over the years has been a major help in developing many of our programs and activities. Certainly, without the university’s generosity in allowing us to use its facilities at no charge, it would have been much harder to bring you and the students and members of the general public who attend our meetings the range and depth of programs that we have been able to present. It would also be a lot harder to make all of our library materials available to members on a regular basis.

On behalf of all of us in Orange County Astronomers, I would like to thank Chapman University for all it has done for us in the past, and all it continues to do for us. Our relationship with the university is one we treasure, and we all hope it continues for many years into the future.

“How To Use Your Telescope” Class

Our spring “How to Use Your Telescope” session of the Beginners Class is on Friday, April 2nd at the Centennial Heritage Museum in Santa Ana at 7:30 p.m. This is the session where people bring their telescopes to the class and get some hands-on help with setting them up, using them, and any particular problems they’re having with them. This is a particularly fun class for both the people who bring their scopes and the club volunteers who come to work with them.

If you have a telescope of any kind and want some help learning how to use it, bring it along to this class – it’s for club members as well as members of the general public. We need volunteers to help the folks who are bringing their scopes, so please plan to come out for this if you have any experience with any type of scope at all. For more information, contact Antonio Miro ( or me (

A Tribute to Gordon Pattison

One great thing about our club is that one member with a vision can bring it to fruition and, in the process, give fellow members a way to increase their enjoyment of both our hobby and of their membership in the club. Gordon Pattison is one of those members, and his particular vision led to the formation of the Astrophysics Special Interest Group in the mid 1990’s.

When I first went to an Astrophysics meeting, it was mainly because I thought that, as an officer of the club, I should visit all of the SIGs at least once. As has been my experience more than once with club activities, I completely underestimated just how fun and rewarding it would be. The Astrophysics SIG is for the armchair astronomer in all of us, and for the part of us that wants to understand what we’re seeing out there when we look through the eyepiece or at a particular image. Its aim is to help its members learn more about the laws and theories of physics that apply to astronomical phenomena, including how the theories developed and what’s going on now in those areas. Besides watching videos from different lecture series (which are a lot more interesting when watched with a group than alone), it’s in part seminar discussion group and social group – a wonderful forum for exploring the exciting and complex issues and theories that encompass how the universe developed, where it’s going and how it may end, the nature of matter and energy, development of stars and planetary systems, development and interactions of galaxies, and all kinds of related topics.

Gordon has been the coordinator for the Astrophysics SIG from its beginning to the meeting in January, 2004, when he formally stepped down due to health problems. Without his efforts over the years, the group would not be what it is today – a true treasure among the many activities available to club members. Those of us in the group are very sorry he has not been able to come to meetings over the last few months – we miss him a lot, and have been worried about his condition. By report, he’s doing much better, and we hope he’ll be able to start coming to meetings again soon.

Thanks, Gordon, for all you’ve done to get the Astrophysics SIG going and to make it into the wonderful group it is today!

And welcome to Chris Buchen as the new coordinator for the Astrophysics SIG, and truly a worthy successor to Gordon in that position.

Coming Up…

There are certain great events that happen regularly, due to a lot of work by a lot of dedicated people. Such as the RTMC Astronomy Expo, coming to us again on Memorial Day Weekend through the efforts of a fine band of folks affiliated with a number of local clubs. One of those fine folks is Dave Radosevich, our esteemed Vice President this year, who is also on the RTMC Board, and is responsible for a couple major aspects of that event. So don’t be surprised if he looks a bit harried in May!

Another great upcoming event is AstroImage 2004, which is happening on Friday night and Saturday of the last weekend in August (the 27th and 28th). It will truly be in the tradition of AstroImage 2002, and, if you’ve any interest in imaging at all, you won’t want to miss it.

In Closing…

That’s all for this month – from me, anyway. Get your 2¢ in, too – send those observations, product reviews, book reviews, equipment pointers, helpful hints, pictures, anecdotes, and all those other things you could share with the appreciative readers of this fine newsletter to Steve Condrey at We all want to hear from you!