this page honors Charles Messier (1730-1817)

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M61 1779 May 11
"Nebula very feeble & difficult to perceive. M. Messier took this nebula for the Comet of 1779, May 5, 6, and 11; the 11th he recognized it was not the Comet; but a nebula that was found upon its route & at the same point of the Sky."

Charles Messier was a comet hunter who worked in an observatory in the Hôtel de Cluny in Paris. After spending a number of fruitless nights observing what he thought was a comet but what instead turned out to be a pale nebula, he decided to create a catalog of objects to help him and other astronomers to keep track of which objects could safely be ignored while scanning the skies.

This first object was given the designation M1, and he described it as being "a whitish light, elongated in the form of a wax candle, discovered in observing the Comet of 1758."

Messier's catalog grew to 103 objects, with seven additional objects added later by other astronomers.

Messier was a successful comet hunter, discovering 13 comets and co-discovering seven more. What earned him his place in the history of astronomy, however, was his catalog of objects.

While Messier's catalog was superseded by the New General Catalogue (NGC) and other later and more complete catalogs, amateur and professional astronomers still refer to these objects by their Messier numbers.

To read more:

Messier's nebulæ and star clusters, by Kenneth Glyn Jones. American Elsevier Publishing Company, ©1968.

The Messier quotations were taken from The Messier Catalogue of Charles Messier, translated and edited by P.H. Niles. ©1981, published by Auriga.