Besides being a considerably successful comet hunter and deep-sky discoverer, Charles Messier was also a skilled carthographer of the heavens. This was of particular importance for him, because for every comet discovery, he published a map of the comet's trajectory in the Memoirs of the French Academy of Sciences. These maps, although not intended to be so, were also some of the most up-to-date star charts available.
Our map presents the path of the comet of 1779 from the constellation Hercules thru Corona and Bootes to Coma Berenices and Virgo.
If we look carefully at the detail of the region around Coma at the right, we see a number of nebulous objects with labels like "nebula 1777" or "nebula 1780." These are some of the nebulae that Messier was publishing almost simultaneously in his famous nebula catalog of 1781. There are no less than 28 Messier objects depicted in the full comet map, many of them for the first time.
In this chart, the following Messier objects can be identified:
For his star charts, Messier used the plates in the Fortin edition of John Flamsteed's Atlas celeste of 1776.
From the Out of This World: The Golden Age of the Celestial Atlas Exhibition of Rare Books from the Collection of the Linda Hall Library.
Last Modification: February 7, 1998