June 26 – Happy Birthday, Charles Messier

Posted on June 26, 2015

Every once in a while you see a gorgeous nebula, sprawling galaxy, or sparkling star cluster referred to as Messier object number such-and-such. More often, you see more cryptic identifiers like “M3,” “M64,” “M110.”

Messier's Catalog during his own time, above,
and now, below.

Today's famous birthday was able to put his stamp on astronomy by creating a catalog of astronomical objects – from M1 to M110 – so that comet hunters could tell the difference between smudges of light that were always in the sky from smudges of light that are new and different!

Charles Messier himself was a comet hunter, of course, and that is why he realized that such a listing would be useful. He discovered 13 comets in his lifetime.
Charles Messier was the tenth of twelve children, born in France on this date in 1730. He saw a spectacular comet in 1744, when he was just 14 years old, and he later saw an annular solar eclipse – and he was intrigued. He wanted to know more, search for more, discover more of these beautiful, rare sights.

Messier was one of the people who pushed forward our knowledge of the universe, and we who live so much later are the lucky ones who get to pore over modern Hubble images of all the marvelous Messier objects!

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