The Messier objects are the delight of amateur astronomers. The French astronomer Charles Messier (1730–1817) was a dedicated comet hunter. Systematically searching the sky for non-stellar objects, he found a number of diffuse objects that he soon realized could not be comets because they did not move. To help other comet hunters in their searches, he published a list of all such diffuse objects that he and his assistant Pierre Méchain had found. The last edition of his Catalog of Nebulae and Star Clusters, published in 1784, lists the brightest “nebulae” and globular star clusters in the sky. At the time, the term
The 110 Messier objects: the most spectacular star clusters, galaxies, and planetary nebulae of the boreal sky that can be seen with a small telescope.
nebula was applied to any object that appeared to be a cloud of gas, but we now know that many of these objects are actually galaxies other than our own. Seen through binoculars or a small telescope, these deep-sky objects are among the most spectacular that an amateur astronomer can observe. Messier made his observations from Paris, hence his catalog does not cover certain beautiful objects in the austral sky, such as the Magellanic Clouds. Still, his list can provide most observers with hours and hours of enjoyment.