Use Charles Messier's Catalog with your students to learn about the universe!
The Messier Catalog is a list of the best-known objects in astronomy. Whenever you encounter a deep space object with an "M-number" such as M1, the Crab Nebula, you are being directed to the Messier Catalog. It contains star clusters such as M13, the Hercules Cluster, nebulas (nebulae) such as the Lagoon (M8) and Orion (M42), and galaxies such as Andromeda (M31), the Whirlpool (M51), and the Sombrero (M104).
The Catalog is often used by amateur astronomers, and it represents the first objects seen in newly-acquired telescopes. Professional astronomers also refer to the Messier Catalog names for deep space objects.
This activity utilizes the SEDS Messier Database
which represents one of the best astronomy education sites on the Internet. The students will use the Messier Database to complete the lab. They will examine a representative selection of the Messier Catalog in order to learn the general features of galaxies, star clusters, and nebulae and their relation to the Milky Way Galaxy and universe.
Major activities consist of completing data tables and answering lab questions. The students also create a Messier bar chart with the data that they collect. The relationship of the Messier objects with our Milky Way is also emphasized through the use of a Messier Objects Star Chart
. For example, the locations of globular star clusters can help to determine the location of the center of the Milky Way. The star chart shows the entire sky in one view, and all 110 Messier Objects are identified. It also includes the bright stars and constellations along with the visible Milky Way as a blue band.
This lab can be used to introduce students to the contents of the universe, and it also emphasizes the Messier Catalog in amateur astronomy. With small telescopes, students can potentially identify and observe these objects for themselves!
The PDF includes a link to the original MS Word file.
Teaching slides to introduce this lab are available
on my TpT store.