Wednesday, August 24, 2011

The Messier Objects

Since I’m stuck with binoculars these days I decided to write about one of the beautiful binocular objects – the Messier objects. In the 1700s, the French astronomer Charles Messier sought out to search for comets. In his search he encountered fuzzy-looking objects which he considered a nuisance. To avoid confusing them for comets, he made a catalog of these objects. He charted 103 Messier objects in his catalog which was published in 1781. What Messier considered a nuisance became more known than his comet discoveries. This catalog of deep-sky objects are some of the sky’s best star clusters (both open and globular), nebulae, and external galaxies.

Binoculars have their own advantage when viewing the messier objects. As an example, when we viewed the Orion Nebula through the C8 it all we could see is the Trapezium – a multiple system of newborn stars forming a trapezoid at the heart of M42. The larger nebulosity of the M42 is not visible through the C8. Binoculars are also adequate to show many individual stars in some of the open clusters. In other cases it would appear as a sort of blur of light. Higher magnifications can resolve the fainter stars. Globular clusters usually appear as a patch of light.

Here are some of the messier objects that I’ve imaged via the MicroObservatory Robotic Telescope Network, a network of automated telescopes that can be controlled online:
M31 Andromeda

M27 Dumbell Nebula

M16 Eagle Nebula


M42 Orion Nebula

M33 Pinwheel Galaxy

M45 Pleiades (Seven Sisters) Star Cluster

M57 Ring Nebula

M20 Trifid Nebula

M51 Whirlpool
M1 Crab Nebula

M8 Lagoon Nebula

*NOTE: The human eye is not sensitive enough to see the colors of the nebulae and galaxies even through a big telescope. The colors are brought out using filters during long-exposure photographs.

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