Charles Messier is know for his catalog of nebulae, but his topic of interest was actually comets. This document states that

Louis XV nicknamed him the "ferret of comets"

But I assume that Louis XV gave him a nickname in French. So what was the actual nickname that Louis XV gave to Charles Messier?


The English name is a literal translation from French. Félix Boquet, "Histoire de l'astronomie", Paris: Payot 1925, p. 466:

Rappelons ici, en parenthèse, que comme pour Maskelyne et de La Lande c'est l'eclipse de Soleil du 25 julliet 1748 qui avait décidé de la vocation du Lorrain Charles Messier (1730 - 1817) que Louis XV surnomma le furet des comètes, en raison de son habileté à découvrir ces astres.

Translation: "Let us recall here, in parenthesis, that as for Maskelyne and de La Lande it is the solar eclipse of July 25, 1748 which had decided the vocation of the Lorrainian Charles Messier (1730 - 1817) whom Louis XV nicknamed the ferret of comets, because of his ability to discover these stars."

Presumably, Maskelyne is the British astronomer Nevil Maskelyne (1732 – 1811), and de La Lande is the French astronomer Jérôme Lalande (1732 - 1807). Messier was born in Badonviller in Lorraine. Just how the solar eclipse of 1748 prompted these men to become astronomers, I do not know.


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