Charles Messier (1730 – 1817)

CHARLES MESSIER is the French astronomer who compiled the famous "Messier Catalog".

Messier was born on 26 June 1730 in Badonviller, France.

His interest in astronomy was sparked by two successive events: the appearance of a great comet with six tails in 1744, and the annular solar eclipse on July 25, 1748. The first documented observation done by Messier was that of the Mercury transit on May 6, 1753.

In 1764 Messier became a member of the Royal Society. In 1769 he was elected a foreign member of the Swedish Royal Academy of Sciences. On June 30, 1770, he was elected a member of the French Academy of Sciences.

Charles Messier’s dream was to become famous for discovering a comet. Alas, when Charles watched through his telescope, he often saw blurry objects in the sky that were already known (and were not comets). So he decided to save himself a little time, and every time he discovered an object that was not moving (comets are expected to move among the stars), he noted them down.

In 1774 Messier published Sciences the first version of his catalog containing 45 objects including nebulae and star clusters in the journal of the French Academy of Science. By 1781, the list grew to 103 sites. The aim of the catalog was to help astronomers and comet hunters (such as Messier himself) to distinguish transient from permanent celestial objects. Although he discovered 13 comets in his life, Charles Messier remains famous for his catalog! To this day, the catalog is used broadly by both amateur and professional astronomers.

On April 12, 1817 Messier died in his home in Paris. He is buried in the Pere Lachase cemetery. A crater of the moon and the asteroid 7359 were named in his honor.