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Krittika, the Astronomy Club of IIT Bombay, recently organised an Inter IIT Messier Marathon. This was the first ever attempt at organising an astronomy competition at the Inter IIT level. Apart from IIT Bombay, there were five other IITs who participated. These were Madras, Delhi, Kanpur, Guwahati and Roorkee. Overall, the event garnered a good response from the other IITs in terms of participation and was appreciated by non-participating IITs as well.

What is a “Messier Marathon”?

There exists a well-known set of 110 astronomical objects called Messier objects listed by Charles Messier in 1771. Messier was a comet hunter and was frustrated with objects which resembled comets, but were not comets. So he made a list of them. A Messier Marathon is a gathering where amatuer astronomers try to find as many Messier objects as they can in one night, using a telescope.

The location: GMRT

All participants assembled at IITB and then left for  Giant Meter-wave Radio Telescope Observatory (generally referred to as GMRT), Khodad on the 14th of December. GMRT is the world’s largest array  of radio telescopes at metre wavelengths. It is operated by the National Centre for Radio Astrophysics (NCRA), a part of the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research (TIFR), Mumbai. This particular location was chosen because of the extremely clear and pitch-black skies.

The night of the competition:

As soon as the last rays of the sun had died down, the teams began their journey of Messier hunting. Every team was given a telescope of their own. Apart from this, the organisers(Krittika Team) set up one equatorial mounted telescope and one 8’ Dobsonian mounted telescope for viewing fainter objects as well as for doing some astrophotography.

The format of the competition

Every IIT had a team consisting of maximum five players. Teams were given 10 points for every Messier object they pointed with their telescope. In addition, there was a bonus task for 20 points in which a team had to point a Messier object through the equatorial mounted telescope. This object had to be one of M65-66, M74 or M82.

The winners and prize distribution

The competition went on right till dawn broke. The winning team, IIT Bombay, pointed 59 Messier objects through the course of the night and a total score of 627 including bonus and quiz. IIT Delhi finished second having pointed 45 Messiers and a score of 465. IIT Kanpur, a one man army, stood third with 33 Messiers and a score of 370. There were three judges for the competition.

The future of Inter-IIT astronomy events

The vision behind organising this event, according to Yash Bhargava, Manager of the Krittika, the interaction among the astronomy clubs of the IITs was limited and there was a definite scope for improving it. The event was a great step towards building healthy relationship between the astronomy clubs of the IITs and developing a fantastic student network among the students of the different IITs. Let’s hope that the success of this event serves as a precursor to more Inter-IIT events in genres apart from sports.