Charles Messier, Astronomer Extraordinaire.

Most people interested in astronomy know the name Messier because they use the Messier Catalog for both visual astronomy and astrophotography. Charles Messier, the name behind the catalog, is not always so well known. I thought I would take this opportunity to introduce Charles Messier to you.

Portrait of Charles Messier

Charles Messier was born in Brandonviller France on the 26th of June, 1730. This was just north of Lac de Pierre-Percee and about 80km west of Strasbourg, France.  His mother Françoise B. Grandblaise, and father, Nicolas Messier had twelve children. His father worked in the Prince of Salm’s administration as a court usher and was well respected. 

Born into a wealthy family, Charles Messier enjoyed an excellent formal education, at least until his father died when he was eleven in 1741. His father’s passing sent the family into financial hardship forcing him to withdraw from his formal education. That same year, Charles fell out of a window and suffered several broken bones. He also mourned the passing of six of his eleven siblings. His education continued at home under the instruction of his older brother for the next eight years.

Despite all of this hardship, he was fascinated by astronomy. Much of this interest could be attributed to two celestial events in his youth, the appearance of the “Great Comet of 1744” (C/1743 X1) and the annular solar eclipse of the 25th of June 1748.

When he was twenty one years old, in 1751, Charles Messier began working for French Naval Astronomer, Joseph Nicholas Delisle. Delisle was originally instructed by Jacques Cassini, son of famous astronomer Giovanni Domenico Cassini. Delisle had also overseen the building of a new observatory in the palace of Cluny in 1747. Messier made the most of this appointment even though in the beginning it was little more than keeping the astronomical records of other astronomers.

He continued working on astronomy when he could, and his first astronomical observation was dated May 6, 1753. 

Charles Messier

This sped his advancement in astronomy such that in eight short years he became chief astronomer of the Marine Observatory. Five years later he was made a fellow of the Royal Society.

Charles Messier’s primary focus of space research was in comets, of which he discovered thirteen. He is most famous however for his list of bright objects in the skies of the northern hemisphere. This list came about because on the 28th of August 1758 while he was searching the skies for comet Halley and he noticed a stationary (as compared to the stars) fuzzy object in the Taurus constellation. Charles Messier noted this object so that it would not be confused with a possible comet sighting as he worked. This object went on to become know as Messier 1, M1, or the Crab Nebula. Over the years he cataloged over one hundred objects in his list. Years later researchers added a few that he had noted but not put on the list to bring the total to one hundred and ten.

Over the years, he discovered thirteen comets, they were:

  • C/1760 B1 (Messier)
  • C/1763 S1 (Messier)
  • C/1764 A1 (Messier)
  • C/1766 E1 (Messier)
  • C/1769 P1 (Messier)
  • D/1770 L1 (Lexell)
  • C/1771 G1 (Messier)
  • C/1773 T1 (Messier)
  • C/1780 U2 (Messier)
  • C/1788 W1 (Messier)
  • C/1793 S2 (Messier)
  • C/1798 G1 (Messier)
  • C/1785 A1 (Messier-Mechain)

 

Charles Messier himself decided to create the list, saying:

“What caused me to undertake the catalog was the nebula I discovered above the southern horn of Taurus on September 12, 1758, whilst observing the comet of that year. This nebula had such a resemblance to a comet in its form and brightness that I endeavored to find others, so that astronomers would no more confuse these same nebulae with comets just beginning to appear. I observed further with suitable refractors for the discovery of comets, and this is the purpose I had in mind in compiling the catalog.

After me, the celebrated Herschel published a catalog of 2000 which he has observed. This unveiling the heavens, made with instruments of great aperture, does not help in the perusal of the sky for faint comets. Thus my object is different from his, and I need only nebulae visible in a telescope of two feet [focal length]. Since the publication of my catalog, I have observed still others: I will publish them in the future in the order of right ascension for the purpose of making them more easy to recognise and for those searching for comets to have less uncertainty.”First pages of the Messier catalog

Both M1 and M2 were objects that had been previously discovered, by one of the most famous English astronomers, John Bevis in 1731 and Italian astronomer Giovanni Domenico in 1746 respectively. Charles Messier’s first true discovery was the globular cluster M3 in the Canes Venatici constellation on the 3rd of May 1764.

When he was 40 years old, on November 26, 1770, Marie-Francoise de Vermauchampt became Mrs. Charles Messier. Charles had met her in 1755 at Collége de France.  On March 15, 1772 Marie gave him a son, Antoine-Charles Messier. Unfortunately she died from complications eight days later. Antoine was not much luckier as he passed away only three days after his mother. Charles Messier never remarried.

Despite failing eyesight, partial paralysis and a stroke, Charles Messier continued to work virtually up to the last days of his life. He passed away on April 11th, 1817 at the age of 87. He was buried in the Père Lachaise cemetery in Paris

Charles Messier‘s list continues today as the single most recognizable list in astronomy. This popularity was probably due to the fact that it is relatively easy to observe all of the Messier objects with nothing more than a reasonable set of binoculars. Many of the targets are quite visible even with the naked eye such as M31, M42 and M45.

Sign honoring Charles Messier

Messier is one of the most famous French astronomers and at the top of any list of astronomers you may find in any astronomy book. He has both an asteroid and a lunar crater officially named after him.

Awards and accolades for Charles Messier:

  • Fellow of the Royal Society
  • Foreign member of the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences
  • Elected to the Académie Royale des Sciences in Paris
  • Selected as a member of the Academy of Harlem in the Netherlands
  • Foreign member of the Royal Society in London
  • Member of the Academy of Auxerre
  • Member of the Institute of Bologne
  • Awarded the Cross of the Legion of Honor by Napoleon Bonaparte in 1806

Beginning and advanced astronomers alike enjoy the objects Charles Messier gave us. His catalog is often used in “Messier Marathons” that attempt to see as many of the objects as possible in a short period of time. These marathons can be as short as one night. It is also fairly common for amateur astrophotographers to attempt to image all 110 of the objects as a kind of “right of passage”.

One problem with Charles Messier’s list is that it only contains objects from the Northern Hemisphere. This makes sense because he only observed from that location. Other lists such as the Caldwell list have sought to become an addition to the Messier list and include objects from the Southern Hemisphere as well.

If you would like more information on Charles Messier, check out this excellent biography.

If you want to know more about the objects that Charles Messier cataloged, you might be interested in my book, the Messier Astrophotography Reference.

I hope you enjoyed reading about Charles Messier!


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Recommended Telescope Eyepieces

I am constantly seeing people asking for eyepiece recommendations so I thought I would address this problem. To start, I have created a video on my YouTube channel talking about the basics of eyepieces. You can see this video at https://youtu.be/KTB_C6v0rQw.

Recommended telescope eyepieces

Even after learning more about eyepieces, the question remains, what eyepieces are worth investing in? To solve this problem I have created a list which attempts to give you a recommendation for brands and models of eyepieces over several different price points. Keep in mind that these are generic recommendations for most people but there are always exceptions based on specific telescopes and targets. For example, fast Dobsonian telescopes usually require higher quality eyepieces than a long refractor will.

I am creating my list using a 17mm eyepiece. This is a nice middle of the road size and provides nice views with virtually any telescope. In addition, almost every manufacturer makes a 17mm or very close to it so that made the comparison easier. With no further delay, here are my personal recommendations.

Eyepiece

Field Of View Eye Relief Price   Recomended Sizes
Orion Sirius Plossl 17mm 52 11 $30.00   25, 17
Celestron X-Cel 18mm 60 16 $65.00   25, 18, 9
Orion Stratus 17mm 68 20 $130.00   24, 17, 13
Baader Morpheus 17.5mm 76 19 $239.00   17.5, 12.5
Televue Nagler 17mm 82 17 $410.00   31, 17, 9

These suggestions are based off what I own and have personally used. There are lot of other brands and models available, some didn’t make the list because I do not recommend them and some because I have not used them. When in doubt, you can always ask.

I suspect the Orion Sirius Plossl is the same eyepiece from several other people such as Vixen and Highpoint with just a different name stamped on it. I like the Orion because I have always received a good quality product for the money I spent so I tend to stick with the Orion name even if the Vixen is a few dollars cheaper. Better safe than sorry.

The Orion Stratus is probably the same as the Baader Hyperion so either would be fine. Since I have used a lot more Stratus eyepieces than I have Hyperions I listed them here. I  also  like the color of the Stratus eyepieces better than the Hyperion, heh.

I currently own all the brands and models listed in my chart except the Morpheus. I have used a couple, but never owned one. I have a lot of Baader filters, and a nice set of Stratus eyepieces which I have had great luck with so I have no reason to think the Morpheus line will be any different. The couple I used were excellent.

The sizes I recommended are for a “typical” telescope. If in doubt of what sizes you may need, I recommend you get the 17mm first, then use that one for a while and see if you consistently want something with more or less magnification and use that to determine what to purchase next.

Good luck and clear skies!


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Total Solar Eclipse August 21, 2017 in Tennessee

I finally got the time to get some eclipse pictures together! Between increased duties at work, the long drive back from Tennessee, and hurricane Harvey, I have been a wee bit busy, sorry!

Almost a year ago my wife and I decided we were going to go see the total solar eclipse 2017. Looking at a list of total solar eclipses, this was the only one until 2024. So we decided to go. For us, the best place to see the eclipse was in Tennessee so that is where we decided to go.

Early on Saturday 19th my wife and I loaded up Buster (my MINI Countryman) and headed up to Memphis. We spend the night there and had a little fun on Beale street. Since it was my wife’s birthday and she was being nice enough to let me head to the eclipse, I figured she should have a little fun, and we did! We did make sure to call it a night early enough so that we wouldn’t have an issue driving up closer to the central line the next morning however.

Sunday the 20th we ate lunch at the Hard Rock on Beale street (Hard Rocks are kinda our little tourist thing) and then headed for Paris, TN. This was our base camp as it allowed me to keep an eye on the weather and had easy access north, west or south to wherever the skies were clear. I could not afford to miss this so I was making sure.

I made plans for three locations, one primary, one further south and one further north. A good portion of the evening was switching between weather apps seeing who said what. All the while I had the weather channel on the TV going. Yeah, I was a little over the top. 

After figuring out what time I would have to get up to make the worst case destination in my plans, we went out and had a nice little dinner, then headed to bed.

The next morning the weather was awesome so we headed to the Eclipse Event in Clarksville, TN at the Old Glory Distillery which was right in the middle of the total solar eclipse 2017 path of totality. The people there were awesome and their spirits were awesome too! Unfortunately their stuff is only available in Tennessee so that may mean we have to go back, heh.

All over Clarksville there were vendors on the side of the road selling everything from water to t-shirts. There was a really great turnout which I think is fantastic. Some people live their whole lives and never experience one of these so it was great to see so many people, especially children, coming out to watch it.

Setting up telescopes for the solar eclipseI set up my 110mm Orion refractor I use for imaging on my Orion Sirius mount, installed my Thousand Oaks glass filter and then fired up the laptop. Next to this setup I put my old Nikon D90 DSLR on a tripod with a 200mm 2.8 ED lens and a 1.4 teleconverter using Baader Solar Film. I also had a video camera using Baader film mounted below the refractor.

My wife in the shade staying cool while watching the laptop screen.It was hot in the parking lot so I put up a little shade tent and let my wife sit under it watching the laptop while I stayed out in the sun making sure everything went well, it didn’t. It took forever to get the mount to line up on the sun, then it wouldn’t track, then a cable came unplugged. It was a nightmare. At just a couple minutes to first contact I told my wife I did not think I would be ready in time. I was fortunately wrong.

I also tried to take a total solar eclipse video but had a problem with the video camera so there is no video unfortunately.

Yes, I tested everything well in advance to the event, but even so, things can still go wrong. I am just thankful that the only real disappointment was that the video was completely useless, both cameras got plenty of great images.

I did decide that my old method of using the shadow behind the telescope to line it up on the sun was a terrible idea. I have since acquired a TeleVue Sol Searcher and will never go back. This thing makes it so very simple to get any telescope lined up in seconds.

Let’s take a look at some images!

The first one is a compilation of images as the sun changed, always wanted one of these images. I did make one of the last eclipse I imaged which was an annular eclipse. While not quite as amazing as a full eclipse, the annular was still incredible and the ring of fire it shows when it reaches annularity is really nice.

Progression of a total solar eclipse

Next we have the money maker, total eclipse. The rays coming out are simply astounding.

Totality.

And here is one of the chromosphere:

Prominences shown in pink around the edge of the eclipseThis is an  enlargement from the D90 which is far inferior to the ones taken through the telescope with the D7000, however you can clearly see the red chromosphere showing up as pink here. This only happens for a few seconds so the fact that I captured them is pretty cool.

One note I want to make is that when you get the chance to see one of these, do not pass it up. Being there and looking around is simply amazing. No other time in my life have I seen light like that, dark but very edgy with multiple shadows because of the way the sunlight shines around the moon. It is nothing like you think, it is way cooler.

Lastly is this image:

Having fun after it was all over.After the eclipse was over it was time to go inside and buy some of their limited edition Solar Shine, made just for the eclipse. It was all a blast!

Driving back to our hotel virtually all of the vendors on the side of the roads were gone which I found odd as there were a ton of people on the roads heading back to wherever they were staying for the night. Seems to me that would have been an excellent time to put everything on discount and sell it rather than tote it back with you. 

I know Sue Ann and I brought more back than we took 😉

I would really like to thank all the people at Old Glory, they were amazing! Also thanks to all the people who bought my book How to Take Pictures of an Eclipse. Hope to see you all at the next eclipse in 2023 (Annular) and 2024 (Total here in Texas, yeah!).

I hope you enjoyed reading about our eclipse journey!

 


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Print edition of EQ mount book released

For a couple of years now you have been able to purchase the book Getting Started: Using an Equatorial Telescope Mount from Amazon as a Kindle book. After numerous requests I have finally restructured the book and released it as a print version for those who want an actual book to take with them outside and learn their new mount.

Both versions of the book are available on Amazon.com via this link.

Thanks for making it a best seller!


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New book on taking pictures of eclipses released!

How to Take Pictures of an Eclipse front cover How to Take Pictures of an Eclipse back cover

 

Do you want to learn how to take photographs of an exciting Solar or Lunar Eclipse? Do you have the right equipment for the job? Do you want to know ALL the tips and techniques needed to make this a success?

A total Solar Eclipse is an incredible sight to behold. It is one of nature’s most awe-inspiring events and has been the subject of amazement, wonder and fear throughout the ages.

But they don’t come around very often. In fact, the last total solar eclipse in North America was 40 years ago. In 2017, however, you will have another chance to witness this rare phenomenon as another total solar eclipse will occur on the 21st August. The total solar eclipse 2017 is something to not be missed!

Now, with How to Take Pictures of an Eclipse, you can be prepared to capture this unique moment as well as other solar and lunar eclipses with information on:

¬Safety warnings
¬The basics you’ll need to know
¬Getting the images you really want
¬What sort of camera to use
¬Using a telescope
¬Motorized mounts
¬And much more…

Capturing this amazing, once-in-a-generation event is something that you won’t want to miss out on and capturing the best shots of it is crucial when it comes to the bragging rights.

Now is the time to act if you want to be prepared for this spectacular sight. Get your copy of How to Take Pictures of an Eclipse now and make sure that you are ready to get the photographs that will amaze your friends and family and be the envy of all.

Get your copy in either print or Kindle edition and be ready for the eclipse today!


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Astrophotography tutorials, reviews, and more on YouTube.

I have had a YouTube channel for a long time but never really developed it until recently. Now I have started putting up astrophotography tutorials, astrophotography videos, reviews, and much more at a breakneck pace mainly aimed at astrophotography for beginners. Just last weekend I put around five videos up with several more in process.

Astrophotography tutorials, reviews, and more on my YouTube channel

Just this weekend I added the following videos:

I have also redone several of the existing astrophotography videos to bring them up to HD (1920 x 1080 @ 30fps) so they look better.

If you have a astrophotography tutorial or video topic you would like for me to cover, use the contact form to let me know. I will be covering anything and everything I can come up with for a while to help build the channel. If you are interested in contributing videos to the channel, let me know as well.

Most of the videos there, and the ones I have planned are designed for the astrophotography beginner. Many were originally designed to augment my books which include several that are a beginner’s guide to dslr astrophotography. If you have ever wanted to know how to take pictures of the night sky, drop by and take a look at some great astrophotography videos.

Be sure to subscribe to my astrophotography videos channel!


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WordPress For Normal People book released!

WordPress For Normal People is my new book which has just been released on Amazon in both print and kindle editions.

  WordPress for normal people front cover WordPress for normal people back cover

WordPress is the perfect tool to help you build the website you’ve always wanted. But the ‘help’ aspect which is built into it isn’t always the right thing for someone who just getting started and needs to know how to build a website.

What you need, and what this book will provide, is a book that shows you how to get off the ground and then build on that knowledge to give you a secure and usable website.

Written in distinct sections WordPress for Normal People will give you everything you need to know on how to create a website including;

*Getting Started
*The basics of websites and WordPress
*Getting WordPress up and running
*Using it day to day
*Going past the basics
*Advertising and promoting your website

WordPress for Normal People aims to take you from not knowing what WordPress is, and only knowing what a website is from the end user’s point of view, then educating you all the way into being able to install, secure and maintain a fully interactive website by reading one single book.

With an emphasis on the things you need for the WordPress website to work on a day to day basis, the focus is on simplicity for both the user and admin. Simple, effective, fast, and with as little interaction from the admin as possible are the goals. And WordPress for Normal People delivers!

From WordPress For Normal People back cover:

If you have ever deleted a file accidentally or had a hard drive fail and take all of your precious data with it, then this book is for you. From the simplest procedures of restoring files from your recycle bin to completely disassembling a hard drive to replace a bad head, you will find it covered in here. Tips and tricks from over thirty years of working on computers are here with plenty of images accompanying the text.

Written for the typical computer user with virtually no technical experience, or for the novice computer technician who wants to add basic data recover to their toolbox, either reader is bound to find a treasure trove of useful information covering all three of the major computer platforms: Windows, Macintosh, and Linux.

Learn how to:

* Undelete accidentally deleted files
* Restore deleted partitions and file systems
* Copy or “clone” drives even when malfunctioning
* Identify characteristics and work with a variety of file systems
* Recover files from drives that will not boot
* Create bootable media for Windows, Mac, and Linux machines
* Backup your data to prevent future data loss
* Permanently delete data so that it cannot be recovered
* Talk to the customer about their options

WordPress For Normal People is available from Amazon in both Kindle and print editions.


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