March is Messier Marathon month

Table of images of all 110 Messier objects. Cl...

Image via Wikipedia

Every year, amateur astronomers around the globe participate in the Messier marathon to test their observing abilities.

Like athletes of the night sky, endurance, fortitude and astronomical knowledge are prerequisites to participate in this all-night event. The goal of the marathon is to spot as many of the 110 Messier objects as possible.

Some objects include galaxies, nebulae, stars and clusters. All are visible in backyard telescopes and some can be seen with binoculars and the naked eye. However, it’s a real challenge to see all of them that few have mastered.

Astronomy clubs like the Hamilton Amateur Astronomers, also use the event as a fundraiser to help promote astronomy in their communities. So please, support your favorite amateur astronomer.

Early spring is normally chosen to hold the marathon since the Earth is at the right position, and the nights are long enough to see the objects.

The list was created by comet hunter Charles Messier in 1771. Initially, there were only 45 objects on his list but it grew over time. It was actually a list of objects to avoid that might be mistaken as comets.

Here are some important events for March stargazers. Most are listed in the Hamilton Amateur Astronomers calendar.

Mercury will be low in the western sky during evening twilight, and Venus will be low in the southeast sky at dawn. Mars, unfortunately, is behind the sun and cannot be seen this month.

Jupiter is very low in the western sky at dusk and will be lost in twilight later in the month. Saturn rises mid-evening and will be high in the south after midnight.

Uranus appears very low in the western sky at dusk, but is lost in twilight by mid-month. Neptune is difficult to see since it’s low in the southeast during morning twilight.

March 4 — New moon

March 6 — The moon is at apogee or farthest away from us this month at 406,582 km

March 11 — Hamilton Amateur Astronomers meeting at 7:30 p.m., Hamilton Spectator building, 44 Frid St., Hamilton. Featured speaker will be Robert Godwin from Apogee Books. He will discuss science fiction space flight and energy. Free admission with door prizes. Non-perishable food items will be collected for local food banks.

March 12 — First quarter moon

March 13 — Daylight saving begins

March 19 — The full moon known as the Worm Moon will appear larger than normal because it’s closer to the Earth than at any other time in 2011. It will be at perigee at 356,577 km away. The Worm Moon received its name from First Nations people, who noticed worms coming up from the mushy soil. It’s also known as the Full Crow Moon, Full Crust Moon and Full Sap Moon.

March 20 — The Vernal Equinox marks the long awaited first day of spring. The sun will be directly over the equator. Night and day will also be equal lengths. From now on the days will become longer. This day also marks the first day of fall in the southern hemisphere.

March 26 — Last quarter moon

For more information, visit www.amateurastronomy.org or call 905-627-4323.

Mario Carr is the group’s director of public education and can be reached at mariocarr@cogeco.ca.

This monthly feature was published in The Hamilton Mountain News, the Burlington Post, The Flamborough Review and the Sachem. If you would like to carry this feature, please email me at mariocarr@cogeco.ca

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About Mario Carr

Mario Carr has a Physics degree from McMaster University and hosts this blog. He is the director of public education for the Hamilton Amateur Astronomers and has helped to raise the profile of the group. He writes an astronomy column and appears on CHCH-TV to talk about the night sky. Mario is the founder of the Carr Marketing Group in Burlington, Ontario and can help with your marketing, communications, publicity and public relations needs. He can be reached at www.carrmarketinggroup.com or mariocarr@cogeco.ca.
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