The Messier Catalog

Charles Messier was an early comet hunter back during the 1700's. During the long hours that he would spend searching the sky, he would periodically run across objects that looked similar to a comet's apprearance in the crude telescopes of his day, but which turned out to be something else. Generally, he would have to spend a long time, perhaps hours, carefully watching an object through his telescope to try to detect movement of the object relative to the background star field. If the object moved, it was a comet; if not, it was something else. Messier was only interested in finding comets, so he did not want to waste time studying an object waiting to see if it moved, only to find out that it was the same object he had previously wasted time on in a prior observing session. During his career, Messier discovered 20 comets.

The Messier Catalog was a list of objects compiled by Messier that were not comets. For his purposes, the catalog was a list of objects to be avoided. The list was compiled as an aid to prospective comet hunters of his day. He added objects to the list in the order in which he discovered and cataloged them. Some of the objects were first seen by other astronomers of the day, and were reported to Messier. Although the list was compiled as a list of objects to be avoided, Messier effectively created a list of the best and brightest deep sky wonders visible from the Northern Hemisphere. Each of the thumbnail images at the top of this page are Messier objects.

When first published in 1769, the list only included 45 objects. Additional objects up to M68 were added in a subsequent publication in 1780. The third version of the catalog was published in 1781, and included objects up to M103. Today, we commonly attribute 110 objects to the Messier list. The identity of some of the objects on the list is controversial. M102 was likely a duplicate observation of M101, although some people speculate that it might have been NGC 5866. M91 may have been a mistaken observation of M58. In the list provided below, M91 corresponds to NGC 4548. The last object on the list, i.e., M110, was a companion galaxy to the Andromeda Galaxy that was found by Messier on August 10, 1773, but never added to his catalog. M104 was discovered by Pierre Mechain and reported to Messier for inclusion in the catalog, but was never added by Messier prior to his death. Messier did, however, add M104 to his personal copy of the catalog. Similarly, M105 was discovered by Mechain in March 1781 and reported to Messier, but was overlooked and misssed the final published catalog. Thus, the last objects on the list were added to the catalog afterwards based on Messier's records and papers. The last object to be discovered was M107, which was found by Mechain in April 1782. The objects listed as M108, M109, and M110 were discovered earlier than M107, but were added to the list later.

There are 36 to 38 objects on the Messier list that can be seen with the naked eye. The list of naked-eye deep-sky objects includes M2, M3, M4, M5, M6, M7, M8, M11, M13, M15, M16, M17, M20, M22, M23, M24, M25, M31, M33, M34, M35, M36, M37, M38, M39, M41, M42, M44, M45, M46, M47, M48, M50, M67, M81, and M93. Two objects that might possibly be included as naked-eye objects are M83 and M92. However, it takes an expert observer with keen vision under very dark skies to see some of the objects on this list. Most, if not all, Messier objects can be detected with a good pair of binoculars under reasonably dark skies. Some of them are truely awesome sights through a telescope.

Two craters on the Moon were named after Charles Messier.

M1 Crab Nebula

M2 globular cluster

M3 globular cluster

M4 globular cluster

M5 globular cluster

M6 Butterfly Cluster

M7 Ptolemy's Cluster. This is the most southernly Messier object, with a declination of -34d 47'.

M8 Lagoon Nebula

M9 globular cluster

M10 globular cluster

M11 Wild Duck Cluster

M12 globular cluster

M13 Hercules Globular Cluster. This image was published in the June 2009 issue of Astronomy Magazine at page 51.

M14 globular cluster

M15 globular cluster

M16 Eagle Nebula

M17 Omega Nebula

M18 open cluster

M19 globular cluster

M20 Trifid Nebula

M21 open cluster

M22 globular cluster

M23 open cluster

M24 Milky Way star cloud

M25 open cluster

M26 open cluster

M27 Dumbbell Nebula

M28 globular cluster

M29 open cluster

M30 globular cluster

M31 Andromeda Galaxy

M32 galaxy

M33 Triangulum Galaxy

M34 open cluster

M35 open cluster

M36 open cluster

M37 open cluster

M38 open cluster

M39 open cluster

M40 double star

M41 open cluster

M42 Orion Nebula

M43 part of the Orion Nebula

M44 Praesepe open cluster

M45 Pleiades. This is the closest Messier object to the planet Earth, at a distance of about 440 light-years away. It is also the brightest object in the Messier catalog.

M46 open cluster

M47 open cluster

M48 open cluster

M49 galaxy

M50 open cluster

M51 Whirlpool Galaxy

M52 open cluster

M53 globular cluster

M54 globular cluster

M55 globular cluster

M56 globular cluster

M57 Ring Nebula

M58 galaxy

M59 galaxy

M60 galaxy

M61 galaxy

M62 globular cluster

M63 Sunflower Galaxy

M64 Blackeye Galaxy

M65 galaxy

M66 galaxy

M67 open cluster

M68 globular cluster

M69 globular cluster

M70 globular cluster

M71 globular cluster

M72 globular cluster

M73 open cluster

M74 galaxy

M75 globular cluster

M76 Little Dumbell planetary nebula. This is one of the faintest Messier objects at magnitude 10.1.

M77 galaxy. This is the most distant Messier object from the planet Earth, and is more than 60 million light-years away.

M78 reflection nebula

M79 globular cluster

M80 globular cluster

M81 Bode's Galaxy

M82 Cigar Galaxy. This is the most northernly Messier object, with a declination of +69d 41'.

M83 galaxy

M84 galaxy

M85 galaxy

M86 galaxy

M87 galaxy

M88 galaxy

M89 galaxy

M90 galaxy

M91 galaxy. At magnitude 10.1, this galaxy ties with M76 and M98 as the faintest objects on the Messier list.

M92 globular cluster

M93 open cluster

M94 galaxy

M95 galaxy

M96 galaxy

M97 Owl Nebula

M98 galaxy. This is one of the faintest objects in the Messier catalog (magnitude 10.1).

M99 galaxy

M100 galaxy

M101 Pinwheel Galaxy

M102 (see M101 - M102 is considered to be a mistaken duplication of M101)

M103 open cluster

M104 Sombrero Galaxy

M105 galaxy

M106 galaxy

M107 globular cluster

M108 galaxy. This image was designated by Astronomy Magazine as the "Picture of the Day" for May 17, 2005 and published in the May 20, 2005 issue of the Astronomy Magazine Newsletter.

M109 galaxy

M110 galaxy

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