French astronomer Charles Messier was born on June 26, 1730. Inspired by childhood sightings of comets and a solar eclipse visible from his home town of Badonvillier, he became an astronomer and comet hunter who kept careful records of his observations.
While hunting for comets in the skies above France, he made a now famous list of the positions of about 100 fuzzy, diffuse looking objects which appeared at fixed positions in the sky. Although these objects looked like comets, Messier knew that since they did not move with respect to the background stars they could not be the comets he was searching for.
These objects are now well known to modern astronomers to be among the brightest and most striking nebulae, star clusters, and galaxies. Objects on Messier’s list are still referred to by their “Messier number.” The first object in his catalog, N1 – also known as the Crab Nebula, was recorded during his search for the return of Halley’s comet in 1758. Messier died in his home in Paris in 1817.