The Dusty Scorpion. Messier 78


The Dusty Scorpion. This is actually Messier object #78 or for shorthand M78. But in this orientation, it looks to be a Scorpion in my mind. This object is in a straight line from the Orion Nebula to the Horsehead Nebula to M78. It’s in the constellation Orion as you would expect and the red on the right edge is part of Barnard’s Loop which circles half of the constellation.

Here’s a little lesson on the Messier objects for those that haven’t heard the story. Charles Messier put together a list of objects that were not comets but bright in the sky. It was actually a list of stuff not interesting to him. In the oddest of odd twists, his list is all anyone remembers him for, not his comet observations. All 110 objects are named for him with the title Messier X or the abbreviation of MX.

At the Delisle Observatory, Messier became interested in studying comets, looking for Halley’s comet that was theorized to return in 1757. However, some flaws in the calculations of Delisle led him to be the second man to spot it. While he was searching, Messier happened upon other already discovered comets. It turns out that one of these was not a comet at all but a nebula. This nebula came to be one of the most widely known, the Crab Nebula, and to Messier, it became M1, the first entry in his catalog.

Messier became obsessed and driven to find new comets. A new discovery was refused to be published by Delisle, but that only pushed Messier to search more fervently, and finally Delisle gave in to his employee and began to support his observations.
In the 1760s Messier cataloged his second nebula, M2, although it had been previously discovered some time before. After turning his attention to the solar system, he did finally find two new comets: Comet 1763 Messier and Comet 1764 Messier.

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