Image Credit: NASA/Hubble Team
The Hubble Space Telescope team recently released a new set of images especially interesting to amateur astronomers: Hubble's Messier Catalog, a stunning collection of images highlighting the famous Messier objects.
Messier objects are named after the original catalog of "faint fuzzies" put together by the French comet hunter Charles Messier in the late 1700's. Messier became frustrated observing intriguing comet-like objects that turned out to not be comets. After discovering and observing one particular faint object for several nights, and finding that it did not move against the background stars but was remained fixed, unlike the relatively swift motion of comet, he made a note of its location and appearance, with regard to letting other comet hunters know not to waste their time observing this "not-comet." That frustrating find became the first entry in Messier's catalog, known today as M1 - the Crab Nebula! Messier discovered many more "not-comets" and added them to this list, and also added more fuzzy objects that were known by stargazers before his time, such as the Orion Nebula (M42) and the Pleiades (M45) . Objects discovered by his contemporaries were also added, like the galaxy M106, discovered by Messier's assistant Pierre Mechain.
Hubble image of the first Messier object, M1: The Crab Nebula
Credits: NASA and ESA; Acknowledgment: J. Hester (ASU) and M. Weisskopf (NASA/MSFC)
The result of Messier's careful recording of "objects that aren't comets" is that he created one of the most well-known and beloved list of interesting astronomical objects in all of astronomy, the objects contained within studied in depth by astronomers for centuries. Even before Messier, the naked eyes of pre-telescopic astronomers noticed a few of these greats, like the distinct cluster of the Pleiades, the distinctly non-stellar nature of a part of the Sword Of Orion (the specific non-stellar portion known today as the Orion Nebula), or the large slash of brightness that is now known as the Andromeda Galaxy (M31). Telescopes, from the early models created by Galileo, all the way to modern age of the giant telescopes in Hawaii and Chile, and of course space telescopes like Hubble, have turned their focus to these intriguing objects time and time again. Many Messier objects serve as a handy test of the upgraded abilities of new telescopes and related technologies, as repeated studies unlock more details about these distant objects and further our understanding of the universe.
Credits: NASA, ESA, M. Robberto (Space Telescope Science Institute/ESA) and the Hubble Space Telescope Orion Treasury Project Team
The Hubble Space Telescope has taken photos of 93 of the 110 objects listed in Charles Messier's catalog since 1990. The Hubble team has released 63 images so far,with more coming as the photos are processed for this special celestial showcase. You can check the gallery in full on Flickr: https://www.flickr.com/photos/nasahubble/sets/72157687169041265/
This release doesn't just contain beautiful images! Each entry in this special catalog from NASA also contains information about each object: what sort of "faint fuzzy" they exactly are, how far away they are from Earth, history behind the object and how observing them has contributed to our understanding of the universe. There is even a finder chart for each entry so you can try to locate and view these wonders yourself! Check out the full details of Hubble's Messier Catalog: https://www.nasa.gov/content/goddard/hubble-s-messier-catalog
Last Updated: November 9, 2017
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