CHARLES MESSIER: THE COMET FERRET
Parisian Charles Messier (1730-1817) found his first comet in
1759, and proceeded to locate new ones almost ever/ year there-after. He was so successful that King Louis XV called him the "Comet Ferret." Messier worked at the Marine Observatory in Paris, supported by a pension from his friend, Jean Baptiste de Saron, President of the Paris Parliament and an expert in comet-orbit calculation.
The French Revolution forced Messier to leave Paris, but in September 1793 he found a comet in the constelation of Ophiuchus. By this time, de Saron had been accused as an enemy of reform and was in prison. Despite this, he used Messier's positions to calculate an orbit for the comet from his prison cell, predicting that it would move closer to the Sun, then swing away and reappear in the morning sky.
Messier confirmed de Saron's predictions on 29 December, and smuggled the news to the prisoner. On 20 April, just three months before the end of the Reign of Terror, de Saron was guillotined. Although Messier survived, he was left virtually penniless.