The history of the discovery of M42

While visible as nebulous patch to the naked eye even under moderate conditions, the Orion Nebula seems to have escaped pre-telescopic detection; only the bright star Theta1 Orionis, which is situated within the nebula, was wellknown to ancient and medevial astronomers. Even Galilei didn't mention it, although he detected a number of stars in and around it during his first telescopic observations in 1610, and in 1617, found the three brightest stars of the Trapezium cluster.

A considerable number of consequent independent discoveries of this nebula followed the invention of telescope:

All these discoveries didn't get publicly known, but were forgotten for a considerable period of time. Consequently, the independent rediscovery by Christiaan Huygens of 1656 (Huygens 1659) was longly considered original, e.g. by Edmond Halley, Philippe Loys de Chéseaux and Charles Messier.

It was not before 1854 that Rudolf Wolf found and published Cysatus' discovery (Wolf 1854). Guillaume Bigourdan recovered Peiresc's original discovery in 1916 (Bigourdan 1916), also referring to Cysatus' finding, while Hodierna's work was rediscovered only in the 1980s (Serio 1985).


Hartmut Frommert
Christine Kronberg

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Last Modification: March 18, 2006