Charles Messier

Scientist / Astronomer

Born: 26 June 1730
Died: 12 April 1817
Birthplace: Badonviller, Lorraine (now France)
Best known as: French comet hunter who first catalogued nebulae
Charles Messier was a French astronomical observer whose accomplishments were so great the king, Louis XV, famously called him "my little comet ferret." Employed by astronomer Nicolas Delisle in 1751 as an observer and recorder, Messier tracked the return of Halley's comet in 1758 and made independent discoveries of comets and nebulae that steered him toward a career as a comet hunter. He kept a record of the fuzzy blurs that weren't comets, and between 1771 and 1881 published a catalog of nebulosities that included more than 100 deep sky objects. These "Messier objects" were assigned numbers (M1, M2, M3, etc.) and the catalog became an indispensable tool for future observers. Modern observations have since shown the objects to be star clusters, nebulae and galaxies. Messier discovered 20 comets during a career that spanned more than half a century, and the Messier Index is used by astronomers to this day.
Extra credit: He was awarded the Cross of the Legion of Honor by Napoleon in 1806... Messier died sometime between the late hours of 11 April and the early hours of 12 April in 1817.

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