Messier object

The Messier objects are a set of astronomical objects first listed by French astronomer Charles Messier in 1771.[1] The original motivation of the catalogue was that Messier was a comet hunter, and was frustrated by objects which resembled but were not comets. He therefore compiled a list of these objects,[2] in collaboration with his assistant Pierre Méchain.

A similar list had been published in 1654 by Giovanni Hodierna, but had no impact and was probably not known to Messier.[3]


Lists and editions

The first edition covered 45 objects numbered M1 to M45. The total list published by Messier finally contained 103 objects, but the list "got an independent life" by successive additions by other astronomers, motivating the additions by side notes in Messier’s and Mechain’s texts indicating that either of them knew of the objects. The first such addition came from Nicolas Camille Flammarion in 1921, who added Messier 104 after finding Messier’s side note in his 1781 edition exemplar of the catalogue. M105 to M107 were added by Helen Sawyer Hogg in 1947, M108 and M109 by Owen Gingerich in 1960, and M110 by Kenneth Glyn Jones.[4] M102 was observed by Méchain, who communicated his notes to Messier; later, it was admitted by Méchain himself that this object does not exist, and it was simply a re-observation of M101. Some sources mention the galaxy NGC 5866 as an identification for M102, but its description does not fit with Méchain's notes.

Messier's final catalogue was included in the Connaissance des Temps for 1784 (published in 1781).[5][6] These objects are still known by their "Messier number" from this list.

Messier lived and did his astronomical work at the Hotel de Cluny, in France in the Earth's northern hemisphere. For this reason, the list he compiled contains only objects found in the sky area he could observe: from the north celestial pole to a celestial latitude of about −35.7°. Many impressive objects visible only from the southern hemisphere, such as the Large and Small Magellanic Clouds, are not listed.

All of the Messier objects are visible with binoculars or small telescopes (under favorable conditions); therefore they are popular viewing objects for amateur astronomers. In early spring astronomers sometimes gather for "Messier marathons", when all of the objects can be viewed over a single night.[7]

A summary of the astrophysics of each Messier object can be found in the Concise Catalog of Deep-sky Objects.[8]

See also


  1. ^ "Charles Messier's Catalog of Nebulae and Star Clusters". SEDS. 15 June 2007. Retrieved 2010-05-08. 
  2. ^ "The Messier Catalog". SEDS Messier Database. SEDS. 25 February 2008. Retrieved 2010-05-08. 
  3. ^ Birthday of a star cluster, Astronomy Now, January 2011, page 20.
  4. ^ Patrick Moore (1979). The Guinness Book of Astronomy. Guinness Superlatives. ISBN 09-00-42476-1. 
  5. ^ Charles Messier (1781). "Catalogue des Nébuleuses & des amas d'Étoiles". Connaissance des Temps for 1784. pp. 227–267. 
  6. ^ "Original Messier Catalog of 1781". Original Messier Catalog of 1781. SEDS. Retrieved 2010-05-08. 
  7. ^ "The Messier Marathon". SEDS. 22 January 2010. Retrieved 2010-05-08. 
  8. ^ W.H. Finlay (2003). Concise Catalog of Deep-sky Objects: Astrophysical Information for 500 Galaxies. Springer. ISBN 1-85233-691-9. 

External links

Wikimedia Foundation. 2010.

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