Messier (June 26, 1730 - April 12, 1817)
Charles Messier was an 18th century French
astronomer and comet hunter. Comet hunters of the time could win great
fame and fortune by discovering a major comet, for example Edmond Halley of
Halley's Comet fame and a contemporary of Messier. So
comet hunting was a common application of astronomy in Messier's time and
still is today.
Then and now, the practice was to make
extended observations of objects with indistinct or fuzzy edges and note any
relative motion of the objects against the star background. Orbits of
comets are calculated by measuring this changing location of the object over
time through multiple observations or by a single observation for an
extended period. This confirms the object as being a comet or
asteroid in orbit about the sun rather than a deep sky object that is
stationary with the background stars.
Legend has it that during his observations Messier noted
objects in the night sky that could take on the fuzzy appearance of a comet
but that did not move relative to the background stars. To avoid
wasting time observing these stationary objects for motion and to better his chances of
discovering comets he and his assistant Pierre Méchain compiled a
catalog of these objects noting their positions so that they could be easily
bypassed during their observations for comets. This catalog is known
as the Messier Catalog and was intended to be a catalog of objects to be
avoided by comet hunters.
I have some doubts as to the credibility of this legend as many of the
objects in the catalog are obviously not comet like even through binoculars.
But if so and ironically, in creating his catalog of objects to avoid,
Messier documented the locations and descriptions of some of the most
stunning and beautiful deep sky objects observable in the northern
hemisphere. Regardless, Messier's
fame today is not for his discoveries of comets, of which there were several
but no major ones,
but instead for his catalog of objects to avoid that are decidedly not
to be avoided!
Today the objects of the Messier Catalog are favorite targets of visual
astronomers and astrophotographers. Many astronomical societies host
an annual Messier Marathon where the goal is to visually locate and
observe all 110 objects of the Messier Catalog in a single night of
observing. And the objects of the Messier Catalog are always favorite targets
for visual observation year around.
A common and challenging goal of astrophotographers, including me, is to
photograph all 110 of these objects and that's what this gallery is about.
The following table lists the Messier objects and will be filled in with
thumbnails of these objects as I photograph them. Click a thumbnail
to go to a page displaying the photograph and details of the acquisition and