For Alison and I, nothing quite beats a nice night of stargazing when we are camping.
We especially like to share this experience with our kids and show them not only the constellations, planets, and asterisms in the night sky but also other space objects. So, we bring our binoculars and telescope on our trips and share some of our favorite Messier objects by season with them.
In this article, we will share with you the 110 Messier objects you can view based on the time of year. We listed them in a Google Sheet broken down by seasons here in the northern hemisphere. Then, we categorized them roughly based on how easy they are to see according to their magnitude so you can view them with a pair of binoculars and a small telescope.
We are happy to share our list of the brightest Messier objects to see sorted by season.The list is definitely up for debate on which objects can be seen best in the spring, summer, fall, and winter, but we created it based on how we currently like to view these celestial objects. We hope it makes your stargazing a little easier and more enjoyable.
List of Messier Objects
After checking out our sorted list of Messier objects, look below the chart to learn a little about what a Messier object is.
If you are on a mobile device, scroll left or right to see more data.
Messier Objects Definition
Right around the time of the American Revolution in the late 1700s, a French astronomer was actually having his own revolutionary moment. Charles Messier was busy cataloging what would eventually become the most famous list of deep-sky objects in the world. He created this list because he basically wanted to study the heavens above and specifically look for comets, but many of the celestial objects he saw were a distraction. So, he recorded his observations of these heavenly bodies and combined them other astronomers’ observations and then published them.
Over the years this list of deep space objects was updated to the list of 110 we see today. When you look at the list, you will find galaxies, nebulae, clusters, and even the remains of a supernova; plenty of fun objects to discover.
The Messier Catalog is definitely not the be-all end-all list of objects in the night sky, since there are numerous others in the field of astronomy. But, it makes a great starting point for stargazers like us and many amateurs. If someone in the 1770s can find over 100 deep-space objects with limited technology, well then so can you!
Most Famous Messier Objects
There’s a pretty good chance if you have been somewhere relatively dark, you have seen at least one of the Messier objects and you don’t even know it. The most obvious one to the majority of people when you show them is the Andromeda Galaxy (M31). It’s also one of the brightest Messier objects in the night sky. This famous spiral galaxy is well known for being the closest “large” galaxy to our own Milky Way Galaxy and is expected to collide with us in a few billion years.
Another famous Messier object you might be familiar with is the Seven Sisters (M45). Also known by the common name of Pleiades, it’s an asterism most people have seen when camping, and is easy to find when looking at the constellation of Taurus. These bright stars are hot blue and have been written about by many cultures for thousands of years. Take a look at the Subaru symbol on the front of a car by the same name, and it might look familiar.
While some new stargazers might have heard about a handful of other famous Messier objects like the Sombrero, Whirlpool, or Cigar Galaxies, the last famous one we will mention here is the Orion Nebula (M42). This one is well known because most people can usually find two things when stargazing: the Big Dipper and Orion’s Belt. Since they know where Orion is, they also sometimes know the Orion Nebula a little below the belt. It’s pretty easy to see since it’s one of the brightest nebulae in the night sky.
Easiest Messier Objects to See
If you are a beginner astronomer or stargazer, you might not know that the brightest Messier objects are not necessarily the easiest to see. There are actually a couple of ways to measure a celestial object’s brightness, with apparent magnitude and absolute magnitude being the main two ways. For our table, we are using apparent magnitude to simplify things since we are not professional astronomers, and we are viewing the objects from Earth. We are keeping it simple in this chart by focusing on what we actually see as stargazers as compared to other celestial objects (apparent magnitude) vs. what we would see 32.6 light years away from Earth (absolute magnitude).
We sorted the Messier objects based on apparent magnitude to avoid the Bortle debate on which are the easiest ones to see based on light pollution levels and our own seasonal enjoyment. Since we almost always view the stars from stunning Bortle 1 to decent Bortle 4 skies when we camp, we have found it’s not too difficult to see all of the Messier objects with the naked eye, binoculars, or just a small telescope. So, we want this list to provide a little motivation for you to get away from those light polluted cities and under some dark skies where you’ll have a greater chance to easily enjoy more deep space objects. Simply put, you’ll discover most of the Messier objects are pretty easy to see with a small telescope when camping somewhere super dark.
Of course we couldn’t end this article without mentioning the Messier Marathon. Lots of stargazers enjoy looking at the stars because they are curious about what is in the heavens above. But, what if you are interested in making it more of a sporting event? Well then try seeing if you can find all 110 of the Messier objects in one night! It’s definitely a good challenge that requires some planning and clear skies.
At the time of this writing, it isn’t something Alison and I have attempted yet because we also have another passion while camping: sunrise hiking. This other hobby we love requires us to get up before sunrise to get on the trail in order to catch the best lighting. So, our Messier Marathon attempt will have to wait since we aren’t exactly spring chickens anymore. No more “all-nighters” and then working out for hours in the morning on a trail for us anymore. It will come eventually though since we love a good challenge. For now, we continue to view the Messier objects at a leisurely pace.
If you are interested in stargazing and just getting started, please check out our other content on our website.
Best of luck out there!
About the Authors
We are avid stargazers Jason and Alison Takacs also known as “Roadtrippin’ with Takacs”. With our two boys Preston and Grayson, we seek out some of the darkest skies in the country while also going on many incredible hiking and other outdoor adventures. As part-time RVers, we try to see as much of this amazing world as possible in our spare time and hope you will join us through this blog and other forms of social media as we explore the night sky and other natural wonders as hardcore astrotourists.