Monday, February 12, 2018

Charles Messier - Astronomer

While exploring the heavens, our amateur astronomers sometimes give a tour of a few of Messier Objects.  But what are Messier Objects? Charles Messier (1730 – 1817) was a French astronomer of little education, who through observation and perseverance discovered numerous comets and other deep space objects such as nebulae, galaxies, and star clusters. But comets were his passion. Although his discoveries are noteworthy, he is remembered today for compiling and publishing his and other astronomers’ discoveries into a series of catalogs.  Each object listed was given a number; the Crab Nebula – M01, Andromeda galaxy – M13 etc. He complied 110 of these objects.  Ironically his purpose in creating the categories was to list those things which he thought were a time waster, “objects to avoid”, when comet hunting. Although, he was excellent at finding comets and deep space objects and making astute observations of a whole range of things from sunspots to eclipses to occultation of astrological objects.  He was no mathematician or theoretician, and he relied on others to compute the orbit of his comets. His work earned him the position of Chief Astronomer of the Marine Observatory in 1759. He was also elected to the numerous notable Science Academies throughout Europe. Eventually, he received the Cross of the Legion of Honor from Napoleon himself. To this day, his lasting legacy, the Messier Catalog, is still used by amateur astronomers all around the world. It includes the majority of the best deep sky objects visible in the Northern Hemisphere.