Astronomy Picture of the Day

Discover the cosmos! Each day a different image or photograph of our fascinating universe is featured, along with a brief explanation written by a professional astronomer.

June 26, 1996

Happy Birthday Charles Messier: M1
Credit: courtesy NOAO

Explanation: French astronomer Charles Messier was born on June 26, 1730. Inspired by childhood sightings of comets and a solar eclipse visible from his home town of Badonvillier, he became an astronomer and comet hunter who kept careful records of his observations. While hunting for comets in the skies above France he made a now famous list of the positions of about 100 fuzzy, diffuse looking objects which appeared at fixed positions in the sky. Although these objects looked like comets, Messier knew that since they did not move with respect to the background stars they could not be the comets he was searching for. These objects are now well known to modern astronomers to be among the brightest and most striking nebulae, star clusters, and galaxies. Objects on Messier's list are still referred to by their "Messier number". The first object in his catalog, M1 pictured above - also known as the Crab Nebula, was recorded during his search for the return of comet Halley in 1758. Messier died in his home in Paris in 1817.

Tomorrow's picture: Galileo at Ganymede

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Authors & editors: Robert Nemiroff (GMU) & Jerry Bonnell (USRA).
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