James Cuffey and M26

The latest Deep Sky Videos instalment is a great example of why I love the series.

One of the project's main goals is making a video about every video in the Messier Catalog - 110 objects in space listed by comet hunter Charles Messier.

We are meandering through the catalog in no particular order, making other space-related videos along the way.

The latest video deals with a seemingly innocuous open cluster of stars that Messier listed at number 26.

M26 (also known as NGC 6694 in the New General Catalog) is pretty uninteresting.

Or at least as uninteresting as you can get for a collection of hundreds of stars in deep space!

Professor Mike Merrifield, an astronomer at the University of Nottingham, tasked himself with finding something to say about M26.

Exploring the literature, he found a paper from 1940 by an astronomer called James Cuffey.

Cuffey retired in 1976 and died in 1999.

Yet his 1940 paper - which is quite readable for an academic paper (!) - explored a strange ring in M26.

What caused the absence (or apparent absence) of stars?

Now the conclusions are not, well, conclusive. But it added much to our knowledge of the cluster.

But for me it was great fun to be raking over the old research, 75 years after it was published.

And it was exciting to have a brief connection with a scientist from the past, sharing his fascination and exploration of a distant object in space that will outlive us both.