I found this nice way to learn the positions of the Messier objects by memory, so that I could do MM-2008 by memory, as I did with MM-2007. Just fire KStars, go to Settings -> Configure KStars and:
1. Remove all constellation lines, boundaries, labels
2. Remove all star name labels, star magnitude labels
3. Keep the faint limit while zoomed out to something like 6.0 or 5.7 magnitude
4. Go to Settings -> FOV Symbols and select the FOV corresponding to your telescope / binoculars.
Now we’re ready. KStars shows you “inverted” field views atleast under the Lambert Azimuthal Equal-area Projection or whatever (God knows what that means), so it virtually mimics your telescope.
The last time I tried it, it actually worked very well. That was when I first planned a technique to traverse the Virgo cluster without getting lost. So, to practice that, all one needed to do was to zoom in on 6 Comae Berenices till the 1 degree FOV symbol corresponding to my telescope’s FOV filled the screen. Now, I could move around as if it were a field I’m looking at through the telescope, and galaxy-hop to practice the technique. So you’d go that way to find M98 and then move in the opposite direction for a degree to get M99 and then extend the 6-Comae to M99 line till you hit M84 and M86 in the field…
This time, much of my preparation for MM(M)-2008, which I’m attempting tonight, is from KStars, rather than from real sky observation! Just disable DSOs by clicking on the DSO icon in the toolbar, zoom out, center the location of the object in your FOV, zoom in till it covers your field, and re-enable DSOs. If you’re good enough, the object will be in your FOV. So in some sense, you can simulate observing as you do with a telescope.
I should be really grateful to Jason Harris for having written such a wonderful piece of software. Much of this technique relies on the simple, intuitive panning that KStars has, unlike Cartes du Ciel or Stellarium.