Charles Messier

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Charles Messier was a French astronomer, best known for his catalogue of unusual objects. He was born on June 26, 1730 in Badonviller, Lorraine, and died on April 12, 1817 in Paris.

Messier was the tenth of twelve children. When he was eleven his father died and he had to leave school in order to earn money for his family.

Since he could not find well-paid work in his hometown, he left for Paris at the age of 21. Working as an assistant to Nicholas Delisle, who had returned to France in 1747 and built a small observatory on the Hotel de Cluny, he had to take notes of all observations. While Libour, Deslisle's secretary, introduced Messier to the use of the astronomical instruments, Delisle himself taught Messier astronomy, pressing upon him the need to note accurate positional data during all observations.

He became further involved in astronomy with the appearance of the great six-tailed comet of 1744 and the solar eclipse of 1748. While he performed many observations, for example of the rings of Saturn and the 1761 transit of Venus, his great love remained comets, of which he discovered 21. As a result of his dealings with other scientists in Germany, England and Russia, he became a member of the Russian Academy of Sciences (1764), the Royal Society (1764), the Berlin Acadamy of Sciences (1769) and Paris Academie Royale des Sciences (1770).

Because his search for comets was continually being thwarted by the existence of 'fixed' cloudlike objects, he decided to make a list of these with exact coordinates and descriptions. This is the famous Messier Catalogue, which astronomers still use today.

In April 1781 his catalogue contained more than a hundred objects and was published in the "Connaissance des Temps 1784".

In April 1798 Messier found his last comet near the Pleiades. Shortly after receiving the Cross of the Legion of Honour from Napoleon, he retired. In 1815 he suffered a stroke, which partly paralyzed him. In 1817 he became a victim of gout and he died on the night of 11-12 April 1817. The astronomical community named a lunar crater and an asteroid after him.


External links

  • [1] The Messier Catalogue