Kerry Dark Skies Messier Marathon

Kerry Dark Skies Messier Marathon is held at a certain date on the Ring of Kerry in March every year.

This opportunity occurs once in the year, around mid- to end-March; the best time to try is of course when the Moon is near its new phase.

Messier marathon is an attempt, usually organized by amateur astronomers, to find as many Messier objects as possible during one night.

The Kerry International Dark-Sky Reserve has been designated Ireland’s FIRST International Dark Sky Reserve by the International Dark-Sky Association

The Dark-Sky Reserve is located in the South West coast of Ireland in what is called an ISTHMUS – a narrow strip of land connecting two larger land areas, usually with water on either side.

The Reserve is protected by the Kerry Mountains and Hills on one side and the Atlantic ocean on the other, is approx. 700 sq km in size and offers dark un-polluted skies,  inhabited villages, helpful locals, remote wilderness, long sandy beaches, and numerous lakes, islands and rivers.

The entrance to the Kerry International Dark-Sky Reserve at Kells on the Ring of Kerry tourist route.  There are over 20 FREE parking areas where one can safely stargaze. Follow the road from Kells to the other Reserve areas of Caherciveen, Valentia Island, Portmagee, The Glen, Ballinskelligs, Waterville, Dromid and Caherdaniel- these are the only areas inside the Kerry International Dark-Sky  Reserve.

The Reserve covers approx. 700 square Kilometers. The Kerry County Council will soon be erecting signposts indicating the entry and exit points to the Reserve.

The N70 main road route is a two lane road with no traffic lights and quite a few bends so drive carefully. The overall speed limit is 100 km except inside the towns and villages where it is reduced to 50 km. Be alert for mountain goats, sheep, cows or  wildlife that sometimes walk/eat  along the road verge.

The Messier catalogue was compiled by French astronomer Charles Messier during the late 18th century and consists of 110 relatively bright deep sky objects (galaxies, nebulae and star clusters).

The number of Messier objects visible in any one night varies depending on a few factors, including the location of the observer, the duration of daylight and night time, and the season (the positions of the Messier objects relative to the Sun varies with the season).

Typically an observer attempting a Messier marathon begins observing at sundown and will observe through the night until sunrise in order to see all 110 objects.

An observer starts with objects low in the western sky at sunset, hoping to view them before they dip out of view, then works eastward across the sky.

By sunrise, the successful observer will be observing the last few objects low on the eastern horizon, hoping to see them before the sky becomes too bright due to the rising sun.

The evening can be a test of stamina and willpower depending on weather conditions and the physical fitness of the observer.

Particularly crowded regions of the sky (namely, the Virgo Cluster and the Milky Way's galactic center) can prove to be challenging to an observer as well, and a Messier marathon will generally budget time for these regions accordingly.

Messier Marathon is a term describing the attempt to find as many Messier objects as possible in one night. Depending on the location of the observer, and season, there is a different number of them visible, as they are not evenly distributed in the celestial sphere.


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