Monday 23 March 2020

Astronomy in Yorkshire #2 March 23rd 1779 Edward Pigott discovers the Black Eye Galaxy

23rd March 1779 Edward Piigott Discovered M64 The Black Eye Galaxy

Edward Pigott although not a Yorkshireman (But then neither am I) worked very closely with John Goodricke in York between 1781-1786 on what today astronomers call variable stars, these are star that change in brightness over a period of time, there work was so important that when I worked in York I called them the ‘Fathers of Variable Star Astronomy’ a term which seems to still be used today.

Before he moved to York he was living in South Wales, it was here that Pigott discovered what he called a nebula in the constellation of of Coma Berenices on March 23rd 1779.

What he could not know was that it was not a nebula but a galaxy around 17 million light years away. This galaxy is called the Black Eye Galaxy because there is a lot of dust close to the bright central part giving the impression of a black eye.

M64 The Black Eye Galaxy

Around the time of his discovery a French astronomer named Charles Messier was searching for comets but he kept coming across lots of fuzzy objects in the sky which he confused for comets, so he drew up a list of non comet objects to remind him that these objects were not comets. This is the Messier list which is still used by astronomers today and when he came across Piggot’s nebula in 1780 he gave it the designation of M64.

M64 is not bright enough to be seen with the naked eye you will need a telescope to see it.

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