How did the famous Charles Messier catalog appear?

How did the famous Charles Messier catalog appear?

The story of the famous astronomer Charles Messier seems quite interesting, as are his achievements. This is an unusual situation, because the scientist has compiled a catalog of objects that seemed to interfere with his true passion - the search for comets. Get to know him better.

Comet Hunter

How did the famous Charles Messier catalog appear?

We have before us a famous French astronomer who literally devoted his life to the search for comets. At least, he systematically and purposefully engaged in research, thanks to which he found as many as 13 pieces.

Interest in the starry sky woke up at the age of 14, when Charles saw the 6-tail comet de Sheso. From 1751 he began working at the observatory under the leadership of astronomy teacher Joseph Nicolai Delil.

The first task Messier seemed interesting because it was associated with Halley's comet. He needed to check the correctness of the calculations of her orbital path. His search led to a discovery in 1759, but he was three months ahead of another astronomer (Johann Palic). But the bottom line is that the reason for the delay was an error in Delite’s calculations. Then Messier published his study, but no one believed in the primacy. This event was the second blow. The first can be considered the moment of 1758, when Messier confused the comet with a nebula. He spent time studying the object and realized that he did not have his own movement. The time costs upset Messier again and then he made an unusual decision.

Messier Catalog

How did the famous Charles Messier catalog appear?

Messier 77 There were objects that were similar in appearance to comets, but they were not. So that no one else would make such mistakes, Charles Messier decided to compile a catalog of these celestial bodies. He marked the found nebula under the first number. Later all of them will represent the letter “M” and the serial number of detection.

In total, the list includes 110 objects, which include galaxies, planetary and emission nebulae, scattered and globular clusters. However, Messier himself did not know what he was dealing with, because the existence of other galaxies was guessed only in the 20th century. Therefore, when describing the location and characteristics of new objects, he used the designation “nebula”.

How did the famous Charles Messier catalog appear?

Messier 107

Messier’s observations were made only from the French territory, therefore the catalog did not include objects located in the Northern Hemisphere (north of 35 ° S lat.). It is important to understand that Messier found only a part of the objects, but he also added to the catalog additions from his friend Pierre Meschen and astronomer William Herschel. Later, Messier’s catalog will be the starting point for creating larger astronomical lists.


In the early lists were listed 4 objects (M47, M48, M91 and M102), which were considered missing or erroneous. That is, when describing them, Charles Messier made mistakes in specifying the location. Therefore, they had to be restored by other scientists. There is also an interesting Messier marathon, when for a certain time period the young astronomer needs to find all the objects from the list in the night sky. This is not only entertainment, but also a kind of test.

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