Charles Messier

Charles Messier (French: [me.sje]; 26 June 1730 – 12 April 1817) was a French astronomer most notable for publishing an astronomical catalogue consisting of 110 nebulae and star clusters, which came to be known as the Messier objects. The purpose of the catalogue was to help astronomical observers, in particular comet hunters like himself, distinguish between permanent and transient visually diffuse objects in the sky.

Charles Messier
Charles Messier
Charles Messier
Born26 June 1730
Badonviller, France
Died12 April 1817 (aged 86)
Paris, France
Known forMessier catalog
AwardsCross of the Legion of Honor
Scientific career


Messier was born in Badonviller in the Lorraine region of France, being the tenth of twelve children of Françoise B. Grandblaise and Nicolas Messier, a Court usher. Six of his brothers and sisters died while young and in 1741, his father died. Charles' interest in astronomy was stimulated by the appearance of the spectacular, great six-tailed comet in 1744 and by an annular solar eclipse visible from his hometown on 25 July 1748.

In 1751 Messier entered the employ of Joseph Nicolas Delisle, the astronomer of the French Navy, who instructed him to keep careful records of his observations. Messier's first documented observation was that of the Mercury transit of 6 May 1753, followed by his observations journals at Cluny Hotel and at the French Navy observatories.

In 1764, Messier was made a fellow of the Royal Society; in 1769, he was elected a foreign member of the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences; and on 30 June 1770, he was elected to the French Academy of Sciences.

Messier discovered 13 comets:[1]

  • C/1760 B1 (Messier) c/2760
  • C/1763 S1 (Messier)
  • C/1764 A1 (Messier)
  • C/1766 E1 (Messier)
  • C/1769 P1 (Messier)
  • D/1770 L1 (Lexell)
  • C/1771 G1 (Messier)
  • C/1773 T1 (Messier)
  • C/1780 U2 (Messier)
  • C/1788 W1 (Messier)
  • C/1793 S2 (Messier)
  • C/1798 G1 (Messier)
  • C/1785 A1 (Messier-Méchain)

Near the end of his life, Messier self-published a booklet connecting the great comet of 1769 to the birth of Napoleon, who was in power at the time of publishing. According to Meyer:[2]

As hard as it may seem to accept, the memoir is an ingratiation to Napoleon in order to receive attention and monetary support. It is full of servility and opportunism. Messier did not even refrain from utilizing astrology to reach his goal. Messier comes quickly to the point on the first page of the memoir, by stating that the beginning of the epoch of Napoleon the Great ... coincides with the discovery of one of the greatest comets ever observed.

Messier is buried in Père Lachaise Cemetery, Paris, in Section 11. The grave is fairly plain and faintly inscribed, and while it is not on most maps of the cemetery, it can be found near the grave of Frédéric Chopin, slightly to the west and directly north, and behind the small mausoleum of the jeweller Abraham-Louis Breguet.

Messier catalogue

The Orion Nebula which Messier gave the designation M42 in his catalogue

Messier's occupation as a comet hunter led him to continually come across fixed diffuse objects in the night sky which could be mistaken for comets. He compiled a list of them,[3] in collaboration with his friend and assistant Pierre Méchain (who may have found at least 20 of the objects[4]), to avoid wasting time sorting them out from the comets they were looking for. The entries are now known to be galaxies (39), planetary nebulae (5), other types of nebulae (7), and star clusters (55).

Messier did his observing with a 100 mm (four-inch) refracting telescope from Hôtel de Cluny (now the Musée national du Moyen Âge), in downtown Paris, France. The list he compiled contains only objects found in the area of the sky he could observe, from the north celestial pole to a declination of about −35.7°. They are not organized scientifically by object type, or even by location. The first version of Messier's catalogue contained 45 objects and was published in 1774 in the journal of the French Academy of Sciences in Paris. In addition to his own discoveries, this version included objects previously observed by other astronomers, with only 17 of the 45 objects being Messier's.[5] By 1780 the catalog had increased to 80 objects.

The final version of the catalogue was published in 1781, in the 1784 issue of Connaissance des Temps.[6][7] The final list of Messier objects had grown to 103. On several occasions between 1921 and 1966, astronomers and historians discovered evidence of another seven objects that were observed either by Messier or by Méchain, shortly after the final version was published. These seven objects, M104 through M110, are accepted by astronomers as "official" Messier objects.

The objects' Messier designations, from M1 to M110, are still used by professional and amateur astronomers today and their relative brightness makes them popular objects in the amateur astronomical community.


Tomb of Messier in Pere Lachaise, Sept 2011
Messier's grave in Père Lachaise, Section 11

The crater Messier on the Moon and the asteroid 7359 Messier were named in his honor.[8]

See also

Commemorative plaque in his hometown of Badonviller


  1. ^ "Maik Meyer. Catalog of comet discoveries". Archived from the original on 16 July 2008. Retrieved 15 May 2008.
  2. ^ Meyer, Maik (2007). Charles Messier, Napoleon, and Comet C/1769 P1 (PDF). p. 3.
  3. ^ "The Messier Catalog". SEDS Messier Database. SEDS. 25 February 2008. Retrieved 8 May 2010.
  4. ^ Jones, Kenneth Glyn (1991), Messier's nebulae and star clusters, Practical astronomy handbook series (2) (2nd ed.), Cambridge University Press, p. 5, ISBN 0-521-37079-5
  5. ^ Knight, J.D. "Meet the Astronomers: Charles Messier". Sea and Sky. Retrieved 2 September 2014.
  6. ^ Charles Messier, 1781. Catalogue des Nébuleuses & des amas d'Étoiles. Connoissance des Temps Pour l'Année 1784 (published 1781), pp. 227–267 Bibcode1781CdT..1784..227M.
    "Original Messier Catalog of 1781". Original Messier Catalog of 1781. Retrieved 10 November 2007.
  7. ^, Charles Messier's Personal Copy of his 1781 "Catalog of Nebulae and Star Clusters"
  8. ^ Schmadel, Lutz D.; International Astronomical Union (2003). Dictionary of minor planet names. Berlin; New York: Springer-Verlag. pp. 592–593. ISBN 978-3-540-00238-3. Retrieved 9 September 2011.


External links

C/1760 A1

The Great Comet of 1760 (C/1760 A1) was first seen on 7 January 1760 by Abbe Chevalier at Lisbon. Charles Messier also spotted the comet on 8 January 1760 in Paris, by the sword of Orion. The comet was his third discovery and the comet was the 51st to have a calculated orbit. Messier observed the comet for a total of 6 days.

It approached the Earth to within approximately 0.0682 astronomical unit (AU) or 6.34 million miles. This is the 17th closest approach by a comet of all time. Messier gave the comet a magnitude rating of 2.0, making it easily visible to the unaided eye. Messier also gave the comet an elongation angle of 140 degrees.

Messier came up against opposition from Navy astronomer Joseph Nicholas Delisle, who had employed Messier from October 1751, because Delisle would not publish the discovery Messier had made. This was a continuation of the mistrust that had developed between Messier and Delisle because Delisle had been slow to publish work done by Messier in 1759; Messier had independently rediscovered Halley's Comet on 21 January 1759 but because Messier had doubted the correctness of Delisle's path, Delisle instructed Messier to continue observing the comet and refused to announce his discovery. Delisle apparently later changed his mind and announced the discovery on 1 April 1759, but other French astronomers discredited Delisle's claim, labelling the discovery an April Fools' joke. Delisle retired in 1760.

As of June 2008, the comet was about 216 AU from the Sun.

Custos Messium

Custos Messium (Latin for harvest-keeper) was a constellation created by Jérôme Lalande in 1775 to honor Charles Messier. It was located between the constellations of Camelopardalis, Cassiopeia and Cepheus. It is no longer recognized.

Lexell's Comet

D/1770 L1, popularly known as Lexell's Comet after its orbit computer Anders Johan Lexell, was a comet discovered by astronomer Charles Messier in June 1770. It is notable for having passed closer to Earth than any other comet in recorded history, approaching to a distance of only 0.015 astronomical units (2,200,000 km; 1,400,000 mi). The comet has not been seen since 1770 and is considered a lost comet.

Lexell's Comet's 1770 passing still holds the record of closest observed approach of Earth by a comet. However, if approaches deduced from orbit calculations are included, it has been beaten by a small sungrazing comet, P/1999 J6 (SOHO), which passed even closer at about 0.012 AU (1,800,000 km; 1,100,000 mi) from Earth on June 12, 1999, albeit unobserved.

List of galaxies named after people

A small number of galaxies or galaxy groups have been named after individual people. In most cases, the named individual was the person who discovered the object, who first brought attention to it, or who first studied it scientifically.

Many of the brighter galaxies visible from the Northern Hemisphere have Messier numbers, named after Charles Messier. For instance, the Andromeda Galaxy is Messier 31 and the Whirlpool Galaxy is Messier 51. There are a few other comprehensive catalogs that assign the cataloguer's name to galaxies. For instance, Markarian galaxies, named after Benjamin Markarian, are galaxies with excess blue and ultraviolet emission; galaxies in the Atlas of Peculiar Galaxies are assigned an Arp number after Halton Arp who produced the catalog; etc. Objects in these catalogs are excluded below, except in cases where they carry the name of an additional person.

Messier 100

Messier 100 (also known as NGC 4321) is an example of a grand design intermediate spiral galaxy located within the southern part of constellation Coma Berenices. It is one of the brightest and largest galaxies in the Virgo Cluster, located approximately 55 million light-years distant from Earth and has a diameter of 107,000 light years, roughly 60% the size of the Milky Way. It was discovered by Pierre Méchain on March 15, 1781 and was subsequently entered in Messier's catalogue of nebulae and star clusters after Charles Messier made observations of his own on April 13, 1781. The galaxy was one of the first spiral galaxies to be discovered, and was listed as one of fourteen spiral nebulae by Lord William Parsons of Rosse in 1850. Two satellite galaxies named NGC 4323--connected with M100 by a bridge of luminous matter--and NGC 4328 surround M100.

Messier 39

Messier 39 or M39, also known as NGC 7092, is an open cluster of stars in the constellation of Cygnus, positioned two degrees to the south of the star Pi Cygni and around 9° east-northeast of Deneb. The cluster was discovered by Guillaume Le Gentil in 1749, then Charles Messier added it to his catalogue in 1764. When observed in a small telescope at low power the cluster shows around two dozen members, but it is best observed with binoculars. It has a total integrated magnitude (brightness) of 5.5 and spans an angular diameter of 29 arcminutes – about the size of the full Moon. M39 is at a distance of about 1,010 light-years (311 parsecs) from the Sun.

This cluster has an estimated mass of 232 M☉ and a linear tidal radius of 8.6±1.8 pc. Of the 15 brightest components, six form binary star systems with one more suspected. HD 205117 is a probable eclipsing binary system with a period of 113.2 days that varies by 0.051 in visual magnitude. Both members appear to be subgiant stars. There are at least five chemically peculiar stars in the cluster and ten suspected short-period variable stars.

Messier 54

Messier 54 (also known as M54 or NGC 6715) is a globular cluster in the constellation Sagittarius. It was discovered by Charles Messier in 1778 and subsequently included in his catalog of comet-like objects.

M54 is easily found in the sky, being close to the star ζ Sagittarii. It is, however, not resolvable into individual stars even with larger amateur telescopes.

Messier 61

Messier 61 (also known as M61 or NGC 4303) is an intermediate barred spiral galaxy in the Virgo Cluster of galaxies. It was discovered by Barnaba Oriani on May 5, 1779. This was six days before Charles Messier observed the same galaxy, but had mistaken it as a comet.

Messier 65

Messier 65 (also known as NGC 3623) is an intermediate spiral galaxy about 35 million light-years away in the constellation Leo. It was discovered by Charles Messier in 1780. Along with M66 and NGC 3628, M65 forms the Leo Triplet, a small group of galaxies.

Messier 84

Messier 84 or M84, also known as NGC 4374, is an elliptical or lenticular galaxy in the constellation Virgo. Charles Messier discovered Messier 84 on 18 March 1781 in a systematic search for "nebulous objects" in the night sky. The object is the 84th in the Messier Catalogue. M84 is situated in the heavily populated inner core of the Virgo Cluster of galaxies.This is a giant elliptical galaxy with a morphological classification of E1, indicating a flattening of 10%. The half-light radius is 72.5″ and the extinction-corrected total luminosity in the visual band is 7.64×1010 L☉. The central mass-to-light ratio is 6.5, which steadily increases away from the core. The visible galaxy is surrounded by a massive dark matter halo.Radio observations and Hubble Space Telescope images of M84 have revealed two jets of matter shooting out from the galaxy's center as well as a disk of rapidly rotating gas and stars indicating the presence of a 1.5 ×109 M☉ supermassive black hole. It also has a few young stars and star clusters, indicating star formation at a very low rate. The number of globular clusters is 1,775±150, which is much lower than expected for an elliptical galaxy.Two supernovae have been observed in M84: SN 1957

and SN 1991bg. Possibly, a third, SN 1980I is part of M84 or, alternatively, one of its neighboring galaxies, NGC 4387 and M86. This high rate of supernova events is rare for elliptical galaxies, which may indicate there is a population of stars of intermediate age in M84.

Messier 86

Messier 86 (also known as M86 or NGC 4406) is an elliptical or lenticular galaxy in the constellation Virgo. It was discovered by Charles Messier in 1781. M86 lies in the heart of the Virgo Cluster of galaxies and forms a most conspicuous group with another large galaxy known as Messier 84. It displays the highest blue shift of all Messier objects, as it is approaching the Milky Way at 244 km/s. This is due to its falling towards the center of the Virgo cluster from the opposite side, which causes it to move in the direction of the Milky Way.Messier 86 is linked by several filaments of ionized gas to the severely disrupted spiral galaxy NGC 4438 and shows some gas and interstellar dust that may have been stripped of it like the one present in those filaments. It is also suffering ram-pressure stripping as it moves at high speed through Virgo's intracluster medium, losing its interstellar medium and leaving behind a very long trail of X ray-emitting hot gas that has been detected with the help of the Chandra space telescope.Messier 86 has a rich system of globular clusters, with a total number of around 3,800. Its halo also has a number of stellar streams interpreted as remnants of dwarf galaxies that have been disrupted and absorbed by this galaxy.

Messier 88

Messier 88 (also known as M88 or NGC 4501) is a spiral galaxy about 50 to 60 million light-years away in the constellation Coma Berenices. It was discovered by Charles Messier in 1781.

Messier 89

Messier 89 (M89 for short, also known as NGC 4552) is an elliptical galaxy in the constellation Virgo. It was discovered by Charles Messier on March 18, 1781. M89 is a member of the Virgo Cluster of galaxies.

Messier 90

Messier 90 (also known as M90 and NGC 4569) is an intermediate spiral galaxy exhibiting a weak inner ring structure about 60 million light-years away in the constellation Virgo. It was discovered by Charles Messier in 1781.

Messier 91

Messier 91 (also known as NGC 4548 or M91) is a barred spiral galaxy located in the Coma Berenices constellation and is part of the Virgo Cluster of galaxies. M91 is about 63 million light-years away from the earth. It was the last of a group of eight nebulae discovered by Charles Messier in 1781.

Originally M91 was a missing Messier object in the catalogue as the result of a bookkeeping mistake by Messier. It was not until 1969 that amateur astronomer William C. Williams realized that M91 was NGC 4548, which was documented by William Herschel in 1784 (according to other sources, however, the nearby spiral galaxy NGC 4571 was also considered as a candidate for Messier 91 by him.)

Messier 93

Messier 93 or M93, also known as NGC 2447, is an open cluster in the constellation Puppis. It was discovered by Charles Messier then added to his catalogue of comet-like objects on March 20, 1781. Caroline Herschel, the younger sister of William Herschel, independently discovered M93 in 1783, thinking it had not yet been catalogued by Messier. Walter Scott Houston described its appearance as follows:

Some observers mention the cluster as having the shape of a starfish. With a fair-sized telescope, this is its appearance on a dull night, but [a four-inch refractor] shows it as a typical star-studded galactic cluster.

It has a Trumpler class of I 3 r, indicating it is strongly concentrated (I) with a large range in brightness (3) and is rich in stars (r).M93 is at a distance of about 3,380 light years from Earth and has a spatial radius of some 5 light years, a tidal radius of 13.1±2.3 ly, and a core radius of 4.2 ly. Its age is estimated at 387.3 million years. The cluster is positioned nearly on the galactic plane and it is following an orbit that varies between 28–29 kly (8.5–8.9 kpc) from the Galactic Center over a period of 242.7±7.9 Myr.54 variable stars have been found in M93, including one slowly pulsating B-type star, one rotating ellipsoidal variable, seven Delta Scuti variables, six Gamma Doradus variables, and one hybrid δ Sct/γ Dor pulsator. Four spectroscopic binary systems in M93 include a yellow straggler component.

Messier object

The Messier objects are a set of 110 astronomical objects cataloged by the French astronomer Charles Messier in his Catalogue des Nébuleuses et des Amas d'Étoiles ("Catalogue of Nebulae and Star Clusters").

Because Messier was interested in finding only comets, he created a list of non-comet objects that frustrated his hunt for them. The compilation of this list, in collaboration with his assistant Pierre Méchain, is known as the Messier catalogue. This catalogue of objects is one of the most famous lists of astronomical objects, and many Messier objects are still referenced by their Messier number.

The catalogue includes some astronomical objects that can be observed from Earth's Northern Hemisphere such as deep-sky objects, a characteristic which makes the Messier objects extremely popular targets for amateur astronomers.A preliminary version first appeared in the Memoirs of the French Academy of Sciences in 1771,

and the last item was added in 1966 by Kenneth Glyn Jones, based on Messier's observations.

The first version of Messier's catalogue contained 45 objects and was published in 1774 in the journal of the French Academy of Sciences in Paris. In addition to his own discoveries, this version included objects previously observed by other astronomers, with only 17 of the 45 objects being Messier's.

By 1780 the catalogue had increased to 80 objects. The final version of the catalogue containing 103 objects was published in 1781 in the Connaissance des Temps for the year 1784.

However, due to what was thought for a long time to be the incorrect addition of Messier 102, the total number remained 102. Other astronomers, using side notes in Messier's texts, eventually filled out the list up to 110 objects.The catalogue consists of a diverse range of astronomical objects, ranging from star clusters and nebulae to galaxies. For example, Messier 1 is a supernova remnant, known as the Crab Nebula, and the great spiral Andromeda Galaxy is M31. Many further inclusions followed in the next century when the first 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 in 1967.

NGC 4571

NGC 4571 is a spiral galaxy located in the constellation of Coma Berenices that William Herschel thought was Messier 91 in Charles Messier' catalog of deep-sky objects, before nearly two centuries later that object was determined to be the nearby barred spiral galaxy NGC 4548.

Whirlpool Galaxy

The Whirlpool Galaxy, also known as Messier 51a, M51a, and NGC 5194, is an interacting grand-design spiral galaxy with a Seyfert 2 active galactic nucleus. It lies in the constellation Canes Venatici, and was the first galaxy to be classified as a spiral galaxy. Its distance is estimated to be 23 million light-years away from Earth.

The galaxy and its companion, NGC 5195, are easily observed by amateur astronomers, and the two galaxies may be seen with binoculars. The Whirlpool Galaxy has been extensively observed by professional astronomers, who study it to understand galaxy structure (particularly structure associated with the spiral arms) and galaxy interactions.

See also

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