By Jim King
The birth of the messier catalogue: Without question, the messier catalogue contains some of the most spectacular deep-sky objects visible in small telescopes, but their inclusion is largely circumstantial. Messier never intended to create a list of the most spectacular objects in the heavens. His was a catalogue of “comet masqueraders” as the late comet discoverer Leslie Peltier called them. Messier started the list in 1758 after he encountered a stationary fuzzy patch near Zeta Tauri (M1) while he was looking for the Comet of 1758. As David Levy notes in Messier and His Catalogue, “Realizing he had been fooled by the sky’s version of a practical joke, Messier began to build a catalogue of what he called “embarrassing objects.”
So, we benefit from his somewhat painful, though eye-opening (pun intended) experience. We are in the middle of the early spring section of Messier’s works.
M48 Open Cluster (2) Easy
The most intriguing “missing” Messier object, M48 is now believed to be NGC 2548, a knitted stellar gathering of about 80 stars between magnitude 8 and 13 located in a rather inconspicuous region of Hydra where it borders Monoceros.