Messier Catalog Photo Gallery
The photo gallery below is a project to image each of the 110 deep sky objects in the Messier Catalog. Charles Messier was an 18th-century French astronomer whose primary goal was to discover new comets. In the process of his searches using relatively small telescopes, Messier occassionally found comet-like object that were not comets. They appeared to be permanent parts of the night sky (like the stars), but he was unaware of the true nature of most of them. To avoid confusion in future comet searches, Messier compiled a catalog of these non-cometary objects.
Today, we recognize the Messier Catalog to consist of a collection of deep sky objects that all lie far beyond the Solar System. Well over 1/3 of them lie outside our own Milky Way Galaxy. The catalog contains 26 open clusters, 29 globular clusters, 7 diffuse nebulae, 4 planetary nebulae, and 40 galaxies (24 spiral, 8 elliptical, 4 barred, and 4 lenticular). There are several one-of-a-kind objects in the catalog including 1 supernova remnant, 1 Milky Way patch, 1 double star, and 1 asterism.
In March 2011, I began a project to image every object in the Messier Catalog from Bifrost Observatory. Although I had already photographed several of the brightest Messier objects, I realized that tackling the entire catalog would be a great way to hone my imaging skills while becoming intimately familiar with each of these famous objects. And it would be great fun!
The Takahashi Epsilon 180 Hyperbolic Astrograph and a Canon EOS 550D / Rebel T2i (modified with a Baader UV/IR filter) were chosen for the project. This combination offers a wide field of view (1.7° x 2.65°) with excellent resolution (1.8 arc-sec per pixel). The resulting images show each each deep sky object in its surrounding environment and at a fixed image scale. This permits direct comparison of the relative sizes of any object in the catalog.
This page will be updated periodically until the entire Messier Catalog has been imaged.
Update: 2011 August - A major fire in the nearby Chiricahua Mountains began on May 8 and filled the sky with varying amounts of smoke and falling ash for some six weeks. This made astrophotography impossible. When the fire was finally under control (late June), the sky then became cloudy with the start of summer monsoon season. As a result, I managed just one night of imaging between May 8 and mid-August. The Messier objects M16, M20, M21, M27, M29, M56, M57 and M71 were imaged on August 2.
Update: 2011 November - After spending several months on the East Coast, I returned to Arizona in mid-October to resume work on imaging the Messier catalog. In the span of several weeks, I imaged nearly 30 objects and have now captured 107 out of 110 Messier objects. The remaining three targets (M5, M101 and M102) are spring/summer objects so I will have to wait until then to complete this catalog.
Update: 2012 January 29 - The final three objects in Messier's catalog (M5, M101 and M102) were imaged in the early hours this morning and the project is now complete! The first of Messier's deep sky objects was imaged just a year earlier on Jan. 23, 2011. To photograph the entire catalog required 24 nights spread over a year. The most productive night occurred on Oct. 21 when 11 separate objects were imaged.
This was an enjoyable project that I recommend to others. I've benefited greatly from a familiarization with Messier's catalog and the distribution of some of the most interesting deep sky objects in the sky. I've also received a lot of practical experience in observatory operation, autoguiding, image acquisition and image processing. After a short break I'm ready to tackle the Caldwell Catalog!
Click on each thumbnail to see a larger image.
- Jones, K. G., Messier's Nebulae and Star Clusters, Cambridge University Press; 2 Ed. (1991).
- Kharchenko, N. V., et al., "Astrophysical Parameters of Galactic Open Clusters," Astronomy and Astrophysics, 438, 1163 (2005).
- Mallas, J. H, and E. Kreimer, The Messier Album, Sky Publishing Corporation (1994).
- O'Meara, S. J., Deep-Sky Companions: The Messier Objects, Cambridge University Press (1998).
- Reico-Blanco, A., et al., "Distance of 72 Galactic Globular Clusters," Astronomy and Astrophysics, 432, 851 (2005).
- Stoyan, R., S. Binnewies, S. Friedrich and K-P. Schroeder, Atlas of the Messier Objects: Highlights of the Deep Sky, Cambridge University Press (2008).