Messier Catalog: A List Of Deep-Sky Objects

You may have encountered the words “Messier Objects” or “Messier Catalog” quite often if you read astronomy articles or listen to space podcasts regularly. If you have a keen interest in astrophotography, you may know that some deep-sky objects have a common name and a Messier number, such as the Orion Nebula (M42), the Roulette Galaxy (101) or even the Pleiades (M45). 

But what is the messier catalog? Who created it and what is its purpose? Let’s find out.

What is the messier catalog?

The messier catalog is an index of the different objects in the night sky that can be observed with a telescope, a pair of binoculars and sometimes with the naked eye. The list was created by the French astronomer Charles Messier, and was first published under the name “Catalogue des Nébuleuses et des Amas d’Étoiles.”

Astronomer Charles Messier

In essence, the messier catalog lists the most spectacular celestial objects that you can observe from your backyard. It classifies those deep sky objects into 5 categories: 

  1. Diffuse nebulae
  2. Planetary nebulae 
  3. Open clusters 
  4. Globular clusters
  5. Galaxies

There are 110 astronomical objects listed in the Messier catalog: 40 galaxies, 29 globular clusters, 27 open clusters, 6 diffuse nebulae, 4 planetary nebulae. The list also contains a few stand-alone objects: 1 supernova remnant, 1 asterism, 1 double star, and 1 Milky Way patch.

The very first version of the Messier catalog was published in 1774 and contained a total of 45 items. It has gone through different versions over the years, and additional entries have been added to each new version. By 1781, the catalog had grown to 103 objects!

It is believed that 17 of these objects were actually discovered by Messier. What is incredible is that Charles discovered all of these objects with a small 100 mm (4-inch) refractor telescope. Nowadays, a 4-inch telescope is classified as an entry-level telescope…

What is its purpose?

Charles concentrated on searching for comets and, while obsessively observing the night sky, he naturally came across many other celestial objects. So he decided to catalogue them in order to differentiate them from the comets he was looking for. The primary purpose of the catalogue was simply to make a note of these deep sky objects so that they would not be confused with comets, which is what Messier just wanted to discover.

A few centuries later, the catalog became a reference for many professional and amateur astronomers. The list is particularly popular with astrophotographers who often engage in a “messier marathon”, where they try to photograph the best possible image of each messier object.

List of Messier Objects

The table below contains all the celestial objects recorded in the messier catalog so far. This can be a useful tool for planning your deep sky observation. Below are the column descriptions:

  1. M: Messier object number in the catalog.
  2. NGC: The object’s number in the New General Catalog.
  3. Type: The object classification.
  4. Cons: The constellation in which the object can be found.
  5. RA: Right ascension in hours and minutes.
  6. Dec: Declination in degrees and minutes
  7. Mag: Apparent magnitude.
  8. Size: Angular size in arc-minutes.
  9. Dist: Distance from us in light-years.
  10. Viewing season: Best season for observing this object.
  11. Viewing difficulty: How hard or easy it is to observe this object with a medium-range telescope.

You can download this table as a CSV file or Excel sheet here.

M1NGC 1952 Crab NebulaSupernova RemnantTaurus5h 34.5m+22°18.46.0x4.06,300WinterModerate
M2NGC 7089 Globular ClusterAquarius21h 33.5m-0°496.512.937500”AutumnEasy
M3NGC 5272 Globular ClusterCanes Venatici13h 42.2m+28°236.216.233,900SpringEasy
M4NGC 6121 Globular ClusterScorpius16h 23.6m-26°325.626.37,200SummerHard
M5NGC 5904 Globular ClusterSerpens Caput15h 18.6m+2°55.617.424,500SummerVery Easy
M6NGC 6405 Butterfly ClusterOpen ClusterScorpius17h 40.1m-32°135.3252,000SummerEasy
M7NGC 6475 Ptolemy¹s ClusterOpen ClusterScorpius17h 53.9m-34°494.180800SummerEasy
M8NGC 6523 Lagoon NebulaDiffuse NebulaSagittarius18h 3.8m-24°23690x405,200SummerModerate
M9NGC 6333 Globular ClusterOphiucus17h 19.2m-18°317.79.326,700SummerModerate
M10NGC 6254 Globular ClusterOphiucus16h 57.1m-4°66.615.114,400SummerModerate
M11NGC 6705 Wild Duck ClusterOpen ClusterScutum18h 51.1m-6°166.3146,000SummerVery Easy
M12NGC 6218 Globular ClusterOphiucus16h 47.2m-1°576.714.516,000SummerModerate
M13NGC 6205 Hercules Globular ClusterGlobular ClusterHercules16h 41.7m+36°285.816.622,800SummerVery Easy
M14NGC 6402 Globular ClusterOphiucus17h 37.6m-3°157.611.727,400SummerModerate
M15NGC 7078 Globular ClusterPegasus21h 30m+12°106.212.333,600AutumnEasy
M16NGC 6611 Eagle Nebula ClusterOpen ClusterSerpens Claudia18h 18.8m-13°476.477,000SummerEasy
M17NGC 6618 Omega, Swan, Horseshoe NebulaDiffuse NebulaSagittarius18h 20.8m-16°117115,000SummerEasy
M18NGC 6613 Open ClusterSagittarius18h 19.9m-17°87.594,900SummerModerate
M19NGC 6273 Globular ClusterOphiucus17h 2.6m-26°166.813.527,100SummerModerate
M20NGC 6514 Trifid NebulaDiffuse NebulaSagittarius18h 2.3m-23°29285,200SummerVery Hard
M21NGC 6531 Open ClusterSagittarius18h 4.6m-22°306.5134,250SummerModerate
M22NGC 6656 Globular ClusterSagittarius18h 36.4m-23°545.12410,100SummerVery Easy
M23NGC 6494 Open ClusterSagittarius17h 56.8m-19°16.9272,150SummerEasy
M24NGC 6603 Milky Way PatchStar CloudSagittarius18h 18.4m-18°254.69010,000SummerModerate
M25IC 4725Open ClusterSagittarius18h 31.7m-19°146.5402,000SummerEasy
M26NGC 6694 Open ClusterScutum18h 45.2m-9°248155,000SummerModerate
M27NGC 6853 Dumbbell NebulaPlanetary NebulaVulpecula19h 59.6m+22°437.48.0x5.71,250SummerEasy
M28NGC 6626 Globular ClusterSagittarius18h 24.5m-24°526.811.217,900SummerEasy
M29NGC 6913 Open ClusterCygnus20h 23.9m+38°327.174,000SummerEasy
M30NGC 7099 Globular ClusterCapricornus21h 40.4m-23°117.21124,800AutumnEasy
M31NGC 224 Andromeda GalaxySpiral GalaxyAndromeda0h 42.7m+41°163.4178x632,900,000AutumnEasy
M32NGC 221 Satellite of M31Elliptical GalaxyAndromeda0h 42.7m+40°528.18x62,900,000AutumnEasy
M33NGC 598 Triangulum/Pinwheel GalaxySpiral GalaxyTriangulum1h 33.9m+30°395.773x453,000,000AutumnHard
M34NGC 1039 Open ClusterPerseus2h 42m+42°475.5351,400AutumnEasy
M35NGC 2168 Open ClusterGemini6h 8.9m+24°205.3282,800WinterVery Easy
M36NGC 1960 Open ClusterAuriga5h 36.1m+34°86.3124,100WinterEasy
M37NGC 2099 Open ClusterAuriga5h 52.4m+32°336.2244,400WinterEasy
M38NGC 1912 Open ClusterAuriga5h 28.7m+35°507.4214,200WinterEasy
M39NGC 7092 Open ClusterCygnus21h 32.2m+48°265.232825AutumnEasy
M40Winecke 4Double StarUrsa Major12h 22.2m+58°59.349510SpringEasy
M41NGC 2287 Open ClusterCanis Major6h 47m-20°444.6382,300WinterEasy
M42NGC 1976 Great Orion NebulaDiffuse NebulaOrion5h 35.4m-5°27485x601,600WinterVery Easy
M43NGC 1982 de Mairan¹s NebulaDiffuse NebulaOrion5h 35.6m-5°16920x151,600WinterEasy
M44NGC 2632 Beehive Cluster (Praesepe)Open ClusterCancer8h 40.1m+19°593.795577WinterEasy
M45Pleiades, Subaru, Seven SistersOpen ClusterTaurus3h 47m+24°7.21.6110380WinterVery Easy
M46NGC 2437 Open ClusterPuppis7h 41.8m-14°496275,400WinterEasy
M47NGC 2422 Open ClusterPuppis7h 36.6m-14°305.2301,600WinterEasy
M48NGC 2548 Open ClusterHydra8h 13.8m-5°485.5541,500WinterEasy
M49NGC 4472 Elliptical GalaxyVirgo12h 29.8m+8°08.49x7.560,000,000SpringModerate
M50NGC 2323 Open ClusterMonocerus7h 3.2m-8°206.3163,000WinterEasy
M51NGC 5194 Whirlpool GalaxySpiral GalaxyCanes Venatici13h 29.9m+47°128.411x737,000,000SpringModerate
M52NGC 7654 Open ClusterCassiopeia23h 24.2m+61°357.3135,000AutumnEasy
M53NGC 5024 Globular ClusterComa Berenices13h 12.9m+18°107.612.656,400SpringEasy
M54NGC 6715 Globular ClusterSagittarius18h 55.1m-30°297.69.182,800SummerModerate
M55NGC 6809 Globular ClusterSagittarius19h 40m-30°586.31916,600SummerHard
M56NGC 6779 Globular ClusterLyra19h 16.6m+30°118.37.131,600SummerModerate
M57NGC 6720 Ring NebulaPlanetary NebulaLyra18h 53.6m+33°28.81.4x14,100SummerEasy
M58NGC 4579 Spiral GalaxyVirgo12h 37.7m+11°499.75.5x4.560,000,000SpringModerate
M59NGC 4621 Elliptical GalaxyVirgo12h 42m+11°399.65x3.560,000,000SpringHard
M60NGC 4649 Elliptical GalaxyVirgo12h 43.7m+11°338.87x660,000,000SpringModerate
M61NGC 4303 Spiral GalaxyVirgo12h 21.9m+4°289.76x5.560,000,000SpringHard
M62NGC 6266 Globular ClusterOphiucus17h 1.2m-30°76.514.121,500SummerModerate
M63NGC 5055 Sunflower GalaxySpiral GalaxyCanes Venatici13h 15.8m+42°28.610x637,000,000SpringModerate
M64NGC 4826 Blackeye GalaxySpiral GalaxyComa Berenices12h 56.7m+21°418.59.3x5.419,000,000SpringModerate
M65NGC 3623 Spiral GalaxyLeo11h 18.9m+13°59.38x1.535,000,000SpringModerate
M66NGC 3627 Spiral GalaxyLeo11h 20.2m+12°598.98x2.535,000,000SpringEasy
M67NGC 2682 Open ClusterCancer8h 50.4m+11°496.1302,700WinterEasy
M68NGC 4590 Globular ClusterHydra12h 39.5m-26°457.81233,300SpringVery Hard
M69NGC 6637 Globular ClusterSagittarius18h 31.4m-32°217.67.126,700SummerModerate
M70NGC 6681 Globular ClusterSagittarius18h 43.2m-32°187.97.828,000SummerModerate
M71NGC 6838 Globular ClusterSagitta19h 53.8m+18°478.37.211,700SummerModerate
M72NGC 6981Globular ClusterAquarius20h 53.5m-12°329.35.952,800SummerModerate
M73NGC 6994 Group of 4 starsGroup/AsterismAquarius20h 59m-12°3892.82,000SummerHard
M74NGC 628 Spiral GalaxyPisces1h 36.7m+15°479.410.2x9.535,000,000AutumnVery Hard
M75NGC 6864 Globular ClusterSagittarius20h 6.1m-21°558.5657,700SummerModerate
M76NGC 650 Little Dumbell, Cork, Butterfly NebulaPlanetary NebulaPerseus1h 42.3m+51°3410.12.7x1.83,400AutumnModerate
M77NGC 1068 Cetus ASpiral GalaxyCetus2h 42.7m+0°18.97x660,000,000AutumnModerate
M78NGC 2068 Diffuse NebulaOrion5h 46.7m+0°38.38x61,600WinterModerate
M79NGC 1904 Globular ClusterLepus5h 24.5m-24°337.78.741,100WinterModerate
M80NGC 6093 Globular ClusterScorpius16h 17m-22°597.38.927,400SummerEasy
M81NGC 3031 Bode¹s GalaxySpiral GalaxyUrsa Major9h 55.6m+69°46.921x1012,000,000SpringEasy
M82NGC 3034 Cigar GalaxyIrregular GalaxyUrsa Major9h 55.8m+69°418.49.x412,000,000SpringEasy
M83NGC 5236 Southern Pinwheel GalaxySpiral GalaxyHydra13h 37m-29°527.611x1015,000,000SpringHard
M84NGC 4374 Lenticular (S0) GalaxyVirgo12h 25.1m+12°539.1560,000,000SpringModerate
M85NGC 4382 Lenticular (S0) GalaxyComa Berenices12h 25.4m+18°119.17.1x5.260,000,000SpringModerate
M86NGC 4406 Lenticular (S0) GalaxyVirgo12h 26.2m+12°578.97.5x5.560,000,000SpringModerate
M87NGC 4486 Virgo AElliptical GalaxyVirgo12h 30.8m+12°248.6760,000,000SpringModerate
M88NGC 4501 Spiral GalaxyComa Berenices12h 32m+14°259.67x460,000,000SpringModerate
M89NGC 4552 Elliptical GalaxyVirgo12h 35.7m+12°339.8460,000,000SpringModerate
M90NGC 4569 Spiral GalaxyVirgo12h 36.8m+13°109.59.5x4.560,000,000SpringHard
M91NGC 4548 Spiral GalaxyComa Berenices12h 35.4m+14°3010.25.4x4.460,000,000SpringVery Hard
M92NGC 6341 Globular ClusterHercules17h 17.1m+43°86.411.226,400summerEasy
M93NGC 2447 Open ClusterPuppis7h 44.6m-23°526223,600winterEasy
M94NGC 4736 Spiral GalaxyCanes Venatici12h 50.9m+41°78.27x314,500,000SpringModerate
M95NGC 3351 Spiral GalaxyLeo10h 44m+11°429.74.4x3.338,000,000SpringHard
M96NGC 3368 Spiral GalaxyLeo10h 46.8m+11°499.26x438,000,000SpringModerate
M97NGC 3587 Owl NebulaPlanetary NebulaUrsa Major11h 14.8m+55°19.93.4x3.32,600SpringVery Hard
M98NGC 4192 Spiral GalaxyComa Berenices12h 13.8m+14°5410.19.5x3.260,000,000SpringVery Hard
M99NGC 4254 Spiral GalaxyComa Berenices12h 18.8m+14°259.95.4x4.860,000,000SpringHard
M100NGC 4321 Spiral GalaxyComa Berenices12h 22.9m+15°499.37x660,000,000SpringVery Hard
M101NGC 5457 Pinwheel GalaxySpiral GalaxyUrsa Major14h 3.2m+54°217.92227,000,000SpringVery Hard
M102NGC 5866 Spindle GalaxyLenticular (S0) GalaxyDraco15h 6.5m+55°469.95.2x2.340,000,000SummerHard
M103NGC 581Open ClusterCassiopeia1h 33.2m+60°427.468,000AutumnEasy
M104NGC 4594 Sombrero GalaxySpiral GalaxyVirgo12h 40m-11°3789x450,000,000SpringEasy
M105NGC 3379Elliptical GalaxyLeo10h 47.8m+12°359.3238,000,000SpringModerate
M106NGC 4258Spiral GalaxyCanes Venatici12h 19m+47°188.419x825,000,000SpringHard
M107NGC 6171Globular ClusterOphiucus16h 32.5m-13°37.91019,600SummerHard
M108NGC 3556Spiral GalaxyUrsa Major11h 11.5m+55°40108x145,000,000SpringHard
M109NGC 3992Spiral GalaxyUrsa Major11h 57.6m+53°239.87x455,000,000SpringHard
M110NGC 205 Satellite of M31Elliptical GalaxyAndromeda0h 40.4m+41°418.517x102,900,000AutumnHard

Periodic Table of Deep-Sky Objects

The messier objects are undoubtedly the most observed objects in the night sky by amateur astronomers and astrophotographers. We decided to get a little creative and built this periodic table of deep-sky objects! This table groups all the messier objects by the ease of visibility with a medium-range telescope (8-inch aperture). This infographic is best viewed on a desktop!

You can download this infographic as a PDF here

If you’d like to purchase the below graphic in printed format, please visit my Redbubble shop

messier objects ranked by viewing difficulty
Tom Urbain

I have been an avid stargazer for over 15 years. The night sky is a treasure trove of celestial wonders that I will never stop looking up to. From planets and galaxies to nebulae, I feel incredibly lucky to have been able to observe them with my own eyes, and I hope to help others do the same.