If you have ever read an article about space or astronomy, there is a good chance you’ve come across things labeled or called a “Messier” object. Messier objects are objects catalogued by the French astronomer Charles Messier in the late 1700’s. Messier liked to search for comets, and found objects in the night that could be confused with comets. He cataloged these objects to prevent them being confused for comets.
Messier objects consist of several types of deep space objects. Open and globular star clusters, nebulae, and galaxies make up the list. They are designated as M followed by a number, such as M89, which means Messier object 89, or the 89th entry in Messier’s catalogue. The majority of these objects require optical aid to see. Some, like the Pleiades star cluster and the Andromeda galaxy can be seen with the naked eye. In this article, we will explore several amazing Messier objects that beginners will enjoy pointing their telescopes at.
Our first target is M51, the Whirpool Galaxy. It’s located near the “handle” of the Big Dipper, and can be seen any time of year. Located approximately 25-30 million light-years away, this galaxy is very unique. It’s actually 2 galaxies in the process of colliding! Best viewed on a moonless night with minimal light pollution, this galaxy is somewhat small in apparent size. It is visible in binoculars, but a telescope reveals this unique Messier object best.
Next up is M57, the Ring Nebula. Located near the bright star Vega, this nebula can be viewed in the late spring, all summer, and early fall months. This nebula was formed by a star shedding its outer layers in its death throes. To spot this object, you will need a telescope. It is quite small, so to make out details, you will need moderate magnification. Some light color can be made out, and if you have a big enough telescope, you can see the star in the center. M57 is fairly easy to find, due to its unique shape and its relative brightness, making this another great target for beginners.
Up next is M42 and M43, combined known as the Orion Nebula. Located below Orion’s belt, this is another easy to find target for the fall and winter months. Binoculars offer a hint of a nebula when spotted. In a telescope, this nebula is big and bright. It appears blue to the eye, but long exposure photography shows a pinkish hue. A telescope will also reveal dust lanes within the nebula. This nebula is described as a “star factory”, since it contains a lot of young stars, and stars that are still forming. Another great target to aim your telescope at!
Another pair of galaxies gives us our next target. The pair of M81 and M82 is an amazing sight! M81, the larger galaxy is a spiral galaxy, face-on towards Earth. M82 is an edge-on galaxy facing us. These galaxies are bright, and can also be seen in binoculars. They fit in the same field of view in a telescope, and hold up well to higher magnification. Located above and to the right of the corner of the “bowl” of the Big Dipper, you shouldn’t have too much trouble finding this pair of galaxies.
Lastly, there are the open star clusters M36, M37, and M38 located in the constellation Auriga in the late summer and fall months. Open star clusters are unique and pretty to gaze upon, and these won’t disappoint! These clusters are relatively dense, and appear quite close to each other in the sky, making moving between them fairly easy. I personally enjoy these open clusters in Auriga because they’re wonderous to view. To see so many stars clustered together, and to be able to individually see the stars within makes me wonder what the night sky would look like on a planet within one of those clusters. How amazing it must look to have so many bright stars in the sky! These clusters won’t disappoint anyone that spots them!
There are 110 Messier objects to see, and all of them are worth seeing! The ones mentioned here are amongst the easiest and most unique to find, and will definitely appeal to stargazers of all levels. You won’t forget the first time you spot these objects either! It is quite amazing these objects are out in space, and it’s great to know the beauty of our universe can be enjoyed in our own backyards. So, if you have a pair of binoculars or a decent telescope, take the time to check out some of the Messier objects. You won’t regret it!
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