DATABASE: Unveiling the Deep Sky

Science  19 Aug 2005:
Vol. 309, Issue 5738, pp. 1161
DOI: 10.1126/science.309.5738.1161a

To weed out distractions during his search for comets, French astro-nomer Charles Messier (1730-1817) tallied other fuzzy heavenly bodies that could be mistaken for the periodic visitors. His Messier Catalog, which you can browse at this site from Students for the Exploration and Development of Space, was more than a mere collection of interstellar smudges. Messier penned the first systematic listing of “deep-sky” objects that include star clusters, galaxies, and nebulae where new suns are born. Among the 110 Messier objects is the Whirlpool Galaxy M51, spotted in 1773. Each object's entry offers basic data such as its position and apparent brightness, describes its discovery and study, and features plenty of images.

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