The French astronomer Charles Messier (1730-1817) was fascinated by comets, and spent his life gazing through small refracting telescopes to identify new examples of these dynamic visitors. But Messier’s skyward scrutiny also revealed a host of other bizarre objects—blurry, apparently unmoving swirls of light—which he noted in a catalog of over 100 so-called “Messier objects.”
We now know that these Messier objects are enormous star-studded structures like galaxies, nebulae, and clusters, and sophisticated modern telescope have been able to reveal their mesmerizing contours with detail that Messier’s four-inch instrument was unequipped to capture. Premier among these observatories is the Hubble Space Telescope: Since its launch in 1990, the Hubble has been steadily snapping spectacular images of each known Messier object to create its own visual gallery of the Messier Catalog.
With the release of 12 new images this month, the Hubble has officially observed 93 of the 110 Messier objects. Scroll down to check out the newcomers to this illustrious gallery that is over 200 years in the making.
Pictured above is Messier 58, a barred spiral galaxy located 62 million light years away, making it the most distant Messier object from Earth.
Messier 59, which shines brightly at the upper left of this image, is a large elliptical galaxy located 60 million light years from Earth.
Messier 62 is an ancient globular cluster—about 12 billion years old—that resides near the center of the Milky Way, and is considered one of the most “irregularly shaped” clusters in our galaxy, according to NASA.
Packed with 400,000 stars, Messier 75 is thought to be 13 billion years old—almost as ancient as the universe itself. It’s 67,500 light years from Earth.
Messier 86 is part of the Virgo cluster located some 52 million light years from Earth, but unlike its Virgo neighbors, it is moving toward the Milky Way.
The spiral galaxy Messier 88 is packed with an estimated 400 billion stars. It is located 47 million years away from the Milky Way, and grows more distant all the time.
Messier 89, an elliptical galaxy pictured at the top right, was first spotted by Messier in 1781. It nearly outshines and illuminates another galaxy in the frame, which appears edge-on in the middle of the image.
This gorgeous image of the colossal spiral galaxy Messier 90 captures its sprawling scope, which contains an estimated one trillion stars.
Another expansive spiral galaxy, Messier 95 is located 33 million light years away, and is notable for its energetic starbirth regions and bright young stars.
Messier 98, which is slight obscured in this image due to the Hubble camera setup, is another huge galaxy that tops one trillion stars.
Messier 108, also known as the “Surfboard galaxy” due to the relatively flat plane of its core, is a spiral galaxy located 46 million light years away.
Last but not least, Messier 110 is an elliptical galaxy pictured on the lower right of this image. It’s a small galaxy containing about 10 billion stars, but is still visible because it is located just 2,690,000 light years away, which is considered local in galactic terms.
These stunning new Hubble shots of Messier objects demonstrate that we have hardly scratched the surface in terms of observing our universe, and that visually capturing these unique spectacles of deep space never fails to inspire awe and wonder.
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