Public Astronomy Nights ....
Saturday 14th July. (Bastille Day)
Once again we were on the oval behind the Toowoomba Education Centre
in Baker St, near the University of Southern Queensland.
The night started just after dark and finished about 10pm.
The telescopes were on the far side of the oval, away from any lights, and gave us a great opportunity to view some of the wonderful Messier objects visible on the night.
A number of telescopes were available to look through and due to the cold weather only a small number of visitors braved the mid-winter conditions but they were rewarded with lengthy sessions at each telescope.
- What did we see on the night?
- The planet Jupiter was prominent in the sky - with it's the major moons and banding.
- Many nebulae (gas clouds in space) were visible.
- Lots of Open and Globular star clusters were in a favourable position too.
- Neighbouring Galaxies, the Magellanic Clouds - and some not so close ones like M105 the Sombrero Galaxy.
- The cold crisp conditions allowed some great seeing and M57 the Ring Nebula was a real treat.
All of this was to remember one particular frenchman's contributions to astronomy, and to share it with the public.
During the years from 1758 to 1782 Charles Messier, a French astronomer (1730 - 1817), compiled a list of approximately 100 diffuse objects that were difficult to distinguish from comets through the telescopes of the day.
Discovering comets was the way to make a name for yourself in astronomy in the 18th century -- Messier's aim was to catalog the objects that were often mistaken for comets.
Fortunately for us, the Messier Catalog became well known for a much higher purpose, as a collection of the most beautiful objects in the sky including nebulae, star clusters, and galaxies.
It was one of the first major milestones in the history of the discovery of Deep Sky objects, as it was the first more comprehensive and more reliable list: Only four objects were initially missing because of data reduction errors, which could be figured out later though.
Today's versions of the catalog usually include also later additions of objects observed by Charles Messier and his collegial friend, Pierre Méchain, but not included in his original list. The study of these objects by astronomers has led, and continues to lead, to important, incredible discoveries such as the life cycles of stars, the reality of galaxies as separate 'island universes,' and the possible age of the universe.
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