Today in the birthday of a famous French astronomer who cataloged the most beautiful objects in the universe — so he could ignore them.
Charles Messier (1730–1817) was a comet hunter. He spent hours at his telescope looking for faint fuzzy blobs that were slightly moving against the distant stellar background — the sure sign of a comet that might be on its way toward us. But Messier was often distracted, sometimes for days, by faint fuzzy blobs that turned out to be not moving, and so were not comets.
He decided to compile a catalog of these not-comet objects to prevent himself and others from wasting time on them, and the now-famous Messier Catalog was born.
What Messier compiled, without realizing it, was a catalog of many of the most spectacular astronomical objects in the sky — nebulae, star clusters, and galaxies — objects that were poorly understood from a scientific point of view in his own day. (The nature of galaxies, for example, as independent “island universes,” was not understood until well into the twentieth century, more than a hundred years after Messier’s death.)
You can find a spectacularly illustrated modern collection of all the Messier objects at the Hubble Space Telescope’s website:
And if you have a small homeschool telescope, you can spot many of them on a dark night from your own backyard. 🔭
So, happy birthday, Charles! 🎉 You didn’t become especially famous for your comets. ☄️ But you did become very famous for your not-comets. 😊
What celestial sights and astronomical apparitions will you be examining in your homeschool this Hercules Term? 🗓
❡ Choose something like a star: Teaching your students to recognize the constellations is one of the simplest and most enduring gifts you can give them. Your recommended backyard star guide and homeschool world atlas (riverhouses.org/books) both contain charts of the constellations that will show you the all the highlights. Find a dark-sky spot near you this month and spend some quality homeschool time beneath the starry vault. 🌌
❡ Star bright: If you’d like some light and easy homeschool astronomy lessons, download and print a copy of our annual River Houses Star Calendar (riverhouses.org/calendars) and follow along with us month by month as we make twelve heavenly friends-for-life over the course of the year. 🌟
❡ Watchers of the skies: This is one of our regular Homeschool Astronomy posts. Add your name to our free River Houses mailing list (riverhouses.org/newsletter) and get great homeschool teaching ideas delivered right to your mailbox every week. 🗞