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The Messier Objects

Charles Messier (June 26, 1730 – April 12, 1817) was a French astronomer who in 1774 published a catalogue of 45 deep sky objects such as nebulae and star clusters. The purpose of the catalogue was to help comet hunters (like himself) and other astronomical observers to distinguish between permanent and transient objects in the sky.

Messier was born in Badonviller (in the Lorraine région of France), the 10th of 12 children of catchpole Nicolas Messier and Francoise b. Grandblaise. Six of his brothers and sisters died young, and in 1741, his father died. Charles’ interest in astronomy was stimulated by the appearance of a great 6-tailed comet in 1744 and by an annular Solar eclipse visible from his hometown on July 25, 1748.

In 1751 came under the employ of the astronomer of the Navy, Joseph Nicolas Delisle, who instructed him to keep careful records of his observations. Messier’s first documented observation was that of the Mercury transit of May 6, 1753.

By 1781 the catalogue had grown to 103 ‘Messier Objects’. Another 7 were added later. The objects’ designations, from M1 to M110, are mostly still in use today.

The catalogue is not scientifically organized by object type or by location (as the later New General Catalogue would be). Nonetheless, the Messier catalogue comprises examples of every known deep sky object, including galaxies, planetary nebulae, open clusters, and globular clusters.

Click here to view the complete Messier list.

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