Hubble is releasing its version of the popular Messier catalog, featuring images of celestial objects that were once noted for looking like comets but turned out not to be. This release coincides with the Orionid meteor shower, which occurs each year when Earth flies through a debris field left behind by Halley’s Comet. The shower will peak during the pre-dawn hours on Saturday, Oct. 21.
Spotting comets was all the rage in the middle of the 18th century, and at the forefront of the comet hunt was a French astronomer named Charles Messier. In 1774, Messier published the first version of his “Catalog of Nebulae and Star Clusters,” a collection of celestial objects that weren’t comets and should be avoided. Today, rather than avoiding these objects, many amateur astronomers seek them out as interesting targets to observe with backyard telescopes, binoculars or sometimes even with the naked eye.
M2: Located roughly 37,000 light-years away in the constellation Aquarius, M2 is a globular cluster — a spherical group of stars bound together by their mutual gravitational attraction. Over 150 light-years across, M2 is one of the largest clusters of its kind.
M11: Also known as the Wild Duck Cluster, M11 is located 6,200 light-years away in the constellation Scutum. Of the 26 open star clusters included in the Messier catalog, M11 is the most distant that can be seen with the naked eye.
M45: Commonly called the Pleiades or Seven Sisters, M45 is an open star cluster. It contains over a thousand stars loosely bound by gravity but is visually dominated by a few of its brightest members.
M49: A member of the Virgo Cluster of galaxies, M49 was the first elliptical galaxy detected outside of the Milky Way’s Local Group. M49 contains a rich collection of globular clusters — nearly 6,000.
M64: Also called the Black Eye galaxy, M64 is easily identified by the band of dust partially obscuring its bright nucleus. The gas in the outer regions of this remarkable galaxy is rotating in the opposite direction from the gas and stars in its inner regions.
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