Creating My Own Messier Catalog

Charles Messier
French Astronomer Charles Messier (1730 – 1817)

Charles Messier was a French astronomer, and much like his 18th century contemporaries he was fascinated by comets. In an attempt to catalog disturbances in the sky that were not comets (as to not confuse people), Messier began a listing of what now accounts for 110 of the brightest objects in the night sky.

His catalog is easy for most Northern-Hemisphere amateur astronomers to photograph. Considering the gear that Messier was using the 18th century any decent modern telescope should allow novices the chance at photographing some deep sky objects.

When I made the investment in an outdoor observatory and took the time to learn plate solving, it became apparent that I could easily do two or more objects a night. Using the hand controller to polar align & go to my targets was a variable I wanted to remove from my evenings and that time was reinvested into planning.

Organization

I knew that I was going to have problems with objects far to my south. I live in a forest so trees are an issue. Unfortunately, with many objects in that part of the sky, I either have limited windows or no opportunity at all. I had to create a plan.

I first built out my catalog based on a poster I saw hanging in my local telescope shop. Seeing where I was in my journey and how long I had to go was daunting. But using Stellarium’s custom landscape function with a 360 image taken from my Pixel phone I was able to figure out ideal shooting schedules for each target.

Thankfully, Messier’s Catalog is largely grouped together and checking off 2-3 targets a night wasn’t that difficult. I know that’s a quantity versus quality approach, but my hope is to complete the majority of my available targets by the end of 2020 and move on to quality shots of my favourites.

Current Status of my Messier Catalog

Here is my 2020 version of the Catalog. Each year is printed on canvas and hung on the walls of the cottage as an progress check. I think it’ll be fun to see my data capturing & photo processing skills evolve over time.

Each galaxy, nebula or star cluster is dated with the photo taken. If the date is in red, it is from a previous year and I should consider updating it. If there is no object but a giant red date appears, those are targets to be completed this year. Messier objects with the “X TOO SOUTH” label are below the treeline and obscured from my current telescope’s position. I might have to borrow a neighbour’s lawn for those.

Click any of these images for a full screen version.

Amateur astrophotography collection of Messier Objects
Amateur astrophotography collection of Messier Objects, July 2020

Previous Annual Catalogs

Personal Messier Catalog, photographed by Jon Stewart prior to December 31st 2018
2018 Version
Messier Catalog photographed by Jon Stewart prior to December 31st, 2019
2019 Version

My Last 100 Messier Photos

Prefer to see these objects individually? Click on any of the photos below to learn more about them and my process of taking their photo.

Messier 78, Casper the Friendly Ghost Nebula

M78