NASA, in its curiosity and passion for all things space-related, have recently updated their catalogue of deep-sky images with 12 Messier objects. Messier objects are astronomical objects first recorded by French astronomer Charles Messier in his Catalog of Nebulae and Star Clusters, published in 1771.
Messier was in fact a comet hunter. At the time, chasing and discovering comets was a great way to make a name for yourself in the field of astronomy. But the telescopes that the researcher had at his disposition were a far cry from the technology of today. In fact, Messier was often frustrated by the discovery of objects that were blurry and faint, which resembled comets, but which did not move as comets do. He thus started a catalogue of these objects: in other words, a catalogue of “non-comets”. He probably didn’t realise at the time the value that this document (comprising nowadays of 110 objects) would have for future generations of astronomers.
Not only were they not comets, but these objects weren’t even in the solar system! Some of them evolved far beyond the Milky Way. Messier was in fact observing nebulae, globular star clusters and galaxies, some of which were millions of light years away. Nowadays, thanks to the Hubble Space Telescope, we have discovered in the past few years that Messier’s list contains some of the most fascinating objects in the sky. You may even already have heard of some of them: the Crab Nebula, the Eagle Nebula which contains the emblematic Pillars of Creation, or even the Whirlpool Galaxy, a pair of galaxies 27 million light years away.
NASA’s new entries into the catalogue last month mainly comprise of galaxies. There are also two globular clusters -collections of ancient stars in the form of a globe -which we generally find in galactic halos. Here they are:
– M58, a barred spiral galaxy some 62 million light years away in the direction of the Virgo constellation
– M59, a large elliptical galaxy around 60 million light years away
– M62, an irregular globular mass situated in our galaxy
– M75, a globular mass also situated in our galaxy, in the Sagittarius constellation
– M86, an elliptical galaxy around 52 million light years away
– M88, a spiral galaxy around 47 million light years away
– M89, an elliptical galaxy around 50 million light years away
– M90, a spiral galaxy around 59 million light years away
– M95, a barred spiral galaxy around 33 million light years away, in the Leo constellation
– M98, a faint spiral galaxy around 44 million light years away
– M108, a barred spiral galaxy around 46 million light years away in the Great Bear constellation
– M110, a satellite elliptical galaxy in Andromeda, only 2.7 million light years away
You can find the entire catalogue here.