2004 All Arizona Messier Marathon Results
March 20/21, 2004 at site south of Arizona City, Arizona.
Well this year's marathon didn't seem to start out so well - mainly due to the weather. Late Friday afternoon I met up with Ken Sikes, his two sons and Steve Coe, at Sunland Gin Road and Interstate 10, with all of us headed towards the site under pretty cloudy skies. Under normal conditions we all would have probably stayed home, but this was Messier Marathon weekend and there wasn't any holding us back. By the time we arrived at the site there was the port-a-potty, ordered by Jack Jones, and about 10 other vehicles.
Friday night started out with much fewer clouds and we showed Ken's sons Clay, and Jeremy who was home on leave from the US Navy, celestial sights they hadn't seen in some years; like the Great Nebula in Orion and open clusters in Auriga. But it wasn't long afterwards that the clouds rolled in again. I called it a night about midnight.
I awoke Saturday morning and the clouds were still with us; leading us to believe there wouldn't be more than 20 or so vehicles - were we wrong here! Saturday afternoon wasn't much better either and around 3:00pm Sheryl Gambardella arrived after having put the SAC signs out along with the already placed EVAC signs.
Around 4:00pm vehicles started to arrive, and arrive, and arrive. Even with partly cloudy skies and they kept arriving.
We had our usual meeting a few minutes before sunset, under cloudy skies. I did announce that if the sky stayed cloudy and no one was able to find anything by around 9:30pm or 10:00pm the event would be canceled. This caught some folks by surprise, but all seemed resigned to the fact that if you couldn't find any thing why continue with the event.
For some strange reason, after the meeting broke up . . . the clouds started to break up starting from the west. By around 7:30pm all the marathoners were straining to see M77 and M74. Most missed both, but the skies were partly cloudy and enough for the marathon to continue. By the 9:30pm time it was abundantly clear there would be NO cancellation now! Around 11:00pm several folks left the site and by midnight the sky was clear of clouds, but the seeing still wasn't good enough for serious observing or astrophotography.
As the night wore on most SAC and EVAC members stayed with the marathon, only a few gave up.
Every marathon seems to have its unique attraction, and this one was no exception. If it wasn't the weather it was the tow truck that arrived around 5:10am. That's just three minutes after twilight when everyone was trying for M30! Of course it had lights and lots of them.
By 5:00am I was watching Richard Payne, Matt Luttinen and Rick Tejera pooling their resources to determine exactly where M30 would rise. So far all had found 109 objects and were desperately trying for the last one.
The week before the marathon Tom Polakis posted a message about the visibility of M30 in early season marathons. It seems the earliest date for it being observed, when all 110 were observed, was by Gerry Rattley on the morning of March 24, 1985. See the following site http://www.seds.org/messier/xtra/marathon/results.html for more information about this, other marathon events and Charles Messier. Many of us pondered seeing M30 for the current marathon.
Now here they are working to get postured to see M30 and this tow truck comes up on the field. It's a big observing field and the trucks lights are bright, very bright. I turned around to watch the truck hoping for its lights to go away and discussed this with someone standing next to me. In a few moments it lights go out and it turns around to back up to the disabled vehicle. About this time Rick Tejera is announcing, "I guess 109 is the limit for this event." Turning around to see what was the matter it was easily determined . . . the clouds rolled in right where M30 was expected to rise. Gerry Rattley's record will seem to stand, for now anyway.
Later in the morning, when picking up the check lists, discussing the marathon and astronomy in general, Jim Gutman said he counted 63 vehicles at sunset and around 30 were still there by sunrise. Not bad considering what the weather was like the day before.
Before leaving the site Ray Farnsworth dropped by and we talked for a few moments. Ray is the land owner that is kind and gracious enough to permit our using his land for the event. We discussed mostly the hot temperatures and cloudy skies. He didn't like them either as they forced cotton growers into an early harvest, something he wasn't prepared for. Ray also appreciated his being kept up to date about the events and was glad the marathon turned out so well.