Thanks to the Hubble Space Telescope, amateur astronomers had 12 new objects to observe during the annual Messier Marathon held March 17 and 18.
The challenge is often scheduled around a new moon in the early weeks of spring. This timing offers the best visibility for observers to spot all of the 110 sky features included in the directory, which has been named after the French astronomer Charles Messier.
Participants of the event start setting up their telescopes by sundown to find as many of the catalog's galaxies, star clusters, and nebulae as they can before sunrise.
According to NASA, those who are able to identify all objects are awarded a certificate, as well as a membership to the Messier Club.
Who Is Charles Messier?
Being the chief astronomer of the Marine Observatory in 1758, one of Messier's main duties was to spot new comets.
This type of work, however, came as quite challenging as he was significantly limited by his equipment. During his observations, he frequently saw objects that appear similar to comets but moved differently and therefore, cannot be categorized as such.
Frustrated, he started cataloging these stationary objects in a journal for him to tell them apart from comets. Overall, he noted down 110 galaxies, star clusters, and nebulae which can be found when viewing the Northern Hemisphere.
Powerful equipment is not required to view these Messier objects. They can be viewed using a regular telescope, though using more advanced ones would surely come to an advantage.
How Does The Hubble Take Photos Of Messier Objects?
The Hubble Space Telescope doesn't work like a conventional digital camera. Instead of using a combination of red, green, and blue light to produce a full-color image, it detects specific light waves to form a picture in monochrome.
In addition, several observations must be done using the device to come up with just one detailed photograph. These multiple images are combined and colors are then assigned to each light wave to bring out the object's distinctive characteristics.
As of February 2018, the telescope has captured 93 out of the 110 objects in the Messier catalog. Some of the images it took offer a full view, while others only focus on an object's most interesting feature.
Although the Hubble Space Telescope can effectively zoom in on astronomical objects, it has a limited field of view. This means that to take a photo of an object in its entirety, the device would have to capture it in many exposures first.
For example, when the telescope photographed the Andromeda Galaxy, it had to capture the object in more than 7,000 exposures.
A report states that even if the Messier Marathon is already finished, objects in the catalog are still viewable until early weeks of April.