The Messier Catalog

In 1781, French astronomer and comet hunter Charles Messier published a catalog of 110 nebulous objects that might be mistaken for comets. With the crude telescopes of the time, these objects appeared to be nothing more than fuzzballs; Messier regarded them as not worth further study. Today Messier objects are known as some of the most beautiful sights in the sky. The catalog includes galaxies, star clusters, and nebulae. (To put this story in historical perspective, realize that the astronomical proof for the existence of galaxies external to the Milky Way was not obtained until the 1920's!) Under good sky conditions, the structure of the Messier objects can be distinguished in even amateur-sized telescopes. Check out some really nice Web pages with images of all the Messier objects if you're interested.

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