M74-The First Attempt
With two dim galaxies left to go on the Messier List, I arrived at Back Creek Valley Overlook around 8:15 PM to skies that were clear and steady, ranking a 6 for transparency and very good to excellent for seeing conditions. I first turned my attention to M74, one of the dimmest and most difficult objects to view on the Messier List. The pattern of stars were right where they should have been, but no M74. After a few more failed attempts, I decided to move on to my other object of the evening.
M33: The Triangulum Galaxy
The Triangulum Galaxy is massive and, due to its size, has a low surface brightness. A 2 inch eyepiece providing 32x magnification gave the best views of this large galaxy, which was easier to distinguish from the background sky than I expected. With M33 documented, I now was down to my final Messier target, but the surprising ease of observing the dim M33 made me concerned that M74 wasn’t going to show itself tonight.
M74-The Final Attempt
If M74 wouldn’t show itself under these ideal seeing conditions, I had two options. Drive to a darker location or use a larger telescope next time I was observing with friends. I didn’t feel like driving any farther tonight and was determined to get all of the Messier targets with my own 8 inch Dobsonian. Around 8:30 PM, my attention turned exclusively to observing M74, and it still wasn’t showing itself. After about 10 minutes of attempts, I thought some faint signs of cloudy detail were possibly coming through, but it was nothing I was comfortable with documenting as a sighting. I then spent the next 15 minutes with a sweater draped over my head to create a “dark room on the Parkway”. Going between 48x and 96x magnification, some more stars slowly started to appear where just a few minutes before there was only darkness. Finally, around 8:50 PM, my “darkroom” was paying off, and the ghostly smudge of a galaxy core began to lift itself out of the background of space. With the extremely faint smudgy core of M74 now appearing exactly where it needed to be on my star chart, I documented my last Messier target at 8:54 PM on October 24, 2019.
After 27 separate observing sessions spanning nearly two and a half years, my journey through the 110 objects that make up the Messier List fittingly ended on two dim fuzzy galaxies viewed from the Blue Ridge Parkway. Here are some stats regarding my time observing the Messier List.
The Messier List
Project Began: June 11, 2017
Project Completed: October 24, 2019
Time Elapsed: 2 Years, 4 Months and 13 Days
Observing Sessions: 27 Nights
Most Objects Viewed in One Session: 11
Averaged Viewed Per Session: 4
Objects Viewed from Home: 94
Objects Viewed from Parkway: 16
Favorite Messier Objects:
M6, M7, M11, M13, M17, M24, M27, M31, M37, M42, M45, M57, M67, M76, M81, M82