June 26 1730 - April 12 1817Charles Messier
was passionate about comets. He discovered 13 new comets and co-discovered a further 7. However, he kept coming across comet-like fuzzy smudges that raised his hopes that he’d discovered another new comet. These smudges, however, did not change position from night to night as comets do. So annoying did he find them that he began cataloguing the “embarrassing” objects as he called them and published them as a list of "Nébuleuses & des amas d'Étoiles"
which was published in the Connaissance des Temps in 1784. Several of these fuzzy patches had already been identified and Messier always acknowledged the original discoverer. Many were first noted by his colleague Pierre Méchain.
were apparent in some of his ra/dec measurements and he appeared to have catalogued M101 twice as M101 and M102 though there is evidence to suggest that M102 is in fact what is now known as NGC 5866.
Messier’s original catalogue listed 103 objects. Corrections and a further 7 objects were added by others, the last one in 1966, after finding references to them in Messier’s own notes or drawings.Messier's Drawings of M31/32/110 and M42/43
Messier had access to an impressive collection of telescopes
and it is generally thought that the quality of the optics would have at best given him similar views to those through a modern 3 inch refractor. His annoying fuzzy patches would have looked nebulous and he would have been able to resolve some stars in the star clusters.
Today, Messier’s list of annoying fuzzy patches is renown as a collection
of some of the most beautiful objects in the sky including nebulae, star clusters, and galaxies. At certain times of the year all 110 objects are visible if you are willing to stay up all night so if you fancy a challenge the Messier Marathon
The SDSS has picked up several
Messier objects. A thread
was started for posting them but seems to have been forgotten. Here are a few of my own personal favourite faint fuzzies.
Joyeux anniversaire Monsieur Messier!