Edmond Halley; Phil. Trans. XXIX, 390-392 (1716)

I. An Account of several Nebulae or lucid Spots like Clouds, lately discovered among the Fixt Stars by help of the Telescope.

In our last [contribution] we gave short Account of the several New-Stars that have appeared in the Heavens, within the last 150 Years, some of which afford very surprising Phaenomena. But not less wonderful are certain luminous Spots or Patches, which discover themselves only by the Telescope, and appear to the naked Eye like small Fixt Stars; but in reality are nothing else but Light coming from an extraordinary great Space in the Ether; through which a lucid Medium is diffused, that shines with its own proper Lustre. This seems fully to reconsile that Difficulty which some have moved against the Description Moses gives of the Creation, alledging that Light could not be created without the Sun. But in the following Instances the contrary is manifest; some of these bright Spots discover no sign of a Star in the middle of them; and the irregular Form of those that have, shews them not to proceed from the Illumination of a Central Body. These are, as the aforesaid New Stars, Six in Number, all which we will describe in the order of time, as they were discovered; giving their Places in the Sphere of Fixt Stars, to enable the Curious, who are furnished with good Telescopes, to take the Satisfaction of contemplating them.

[M42] The first and most considerable is that in the Middle of Orion's Sword, marked with Theta by Bayer in his Uranometria, as a single Star of third Magnitude; and is so accounted by Ptolemy, Tycho Brahe and Hevelius: but is in reality two very contiguous Stars environed with a very large transparent bright Spot, through which they appear with several others. These are curiously described by Hugenius [Christiaan Huygens] in his Systema Saturnium pag. 8, who there calls this brightness Portentum, cui certe simile aliud nusquam apud reliquas Fixas potuit animadvertere [a wonderful object, which is certainly unique among the fixed stars]: affirming that he found it by chance in the Year 1656. The Middle of this is at present at [Gemini] 19 deg 00, with South lat. 28 deg 3/4.

[M31] About the Year 1661 another of this sort was discovered (if I mistake not) by Bullialdus, in Cingulo Andromedae [in the Girdle of Andromeda]. This is neither Tycho nor Bayer, having been omitted, as are many others because of its smallness: But it is inserted into the Catalog of Hevelius, who has improperly call'd it Nebulosa instead of Nebula; it has no sign of a Star in it, but appears like a pale Cloud, and seems to emit a radiant Beam into the North East, as that in Orion does in the South East. It precedes in Right Ascension the Northern in the Girdle, or Nu Bayero [Nu And, according to Bayer], about a Degree and three Quarters, and has Longitude at this time [Aries] 24 deg 00' with Lat. North 33 deg 1/3.

[M22] The third is near the Ecliptick between the Head and Bow of Sagittarius, not far from the Point of the Winter Solstice. This it seems was found in the Year 1665 by a German Gentleman M.J. Abraham Ihle, whilst he attended the Motion of Saturn then near its aphelion. This is small but very luminous, and emits a Ray like the former. Its Place at this time is [Capricorn] 4 deg 1/2 with about half a Degree South Lat.

[Omega Centauri, NGC 5139] The fourth was found by M. Edm. Halley in the Year 1677, when he was making the Catalog of the Southern Stars. It is in Centaur, that which Ptolemy calls [the one who emerges from the (horse's) back] which He names in dorso Equino Nebulus [Nebula on the back of the horse] and is Bayers Omega; It is in appearance between the fourth and fifth Magnitude, and emits but a small Light for its Breadth, and is without a radiant Beam; this never rises in England, but at this time its Place is [Scorpio] 5 deg 3/4 with 35 deg 1/5 South Lat.

[M11] A Fifth was discovered by Mr. G. Kirch in the Year 1681, preceding the Right Foot of Antinous: It is of its self but a small obscure Spot, but has a Star that shines through it, which makes it more luminous. The Longitude of this is at present [Capricorn] 9 deg. circiter, with 17 deg 1/6 North Latitude.

[M13] The Sixth and last was accidentally hit upon by M. Edm. Halley in the Constellation of Hercules, in the Year 1714. It is nearly in a Right Line with Zeta and Eta of Bayer, somewhat nearer to Zeta than to Eta: and by comparing its Situation among the Stars, its Place is sufficiently near in [Scorpio] 26 deg 1/2 with 57 deg 00. North. Lat. This is but a little Patch, but it shews it self to the naked Eye, when the Sky is serene and the Moon absent.

There are undoubtedly more of these which have not yet come to our Knowledge, and some perhaps bigger but though all these Spots are in Appearance but little, and most of them but a few Minutes in Diameter; yet since they are among the Fixt Stars, that is, since they have no Annual Parallax, they cannot fail to occupy Spaces immensely great, and perhaps not less than our whole Solar System. In all these so vast Spaces it should seem that there is perpetual uninterrupted Day, which may furnish Matter of Speculation, as well to the curious Naturalist as to the Astronomer.

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  • Edmond Halley's Deep Sky Objects
  • Short biography of Edmond Halley
  • History of the Discovery of the Deepsky Objects
  • More Deepsky Catalogs and Observing Lists
  • Some other historical catalogs

    Hartmut Frommert
    Christine Kronberg

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