The large ball cluster of Hercules

Illustration showing the six tails of a comet in the sky before dawn

There are comets, and then there are the big comets. It is certainly the fire that broke out in the sky in 1743 and 1744. One of the most recent.

As the comet passed Earth toward the sun, it was thought that the comet was bright enough to be seen in daylight and outsmarted Venus in the evening sky. He has also developed a long and eye-catching double tail, which is already unusual. Then, as it reached the perihelion and rotated around the sun, the comet’s tail split into six clearly defined rays. In the morning, when the comet’s head was still hidden below the horizon, these six tails were bright and visible and reached into the sky like a kind of “fan” that seemed to come from the sun.

Why the comet gave this appearance remains a mystery. There could actually be one or two much larger tails, but there were areas that got darker from the thick dust. In any case, it has been recorded by astronomers all over the world, including in China, where court astronomers claimed that the comet made a crackling sound. It was a very strange sin.

The not-so-tall young Catherine noticed the culprit when she traveled to Russia to get married. Apparently she was thinking of declaring her future greatness because … of course she did.

Back in France, the young Messier also seems to have seen the comet and seems to have come a long way to propel him into a future in astronomy, rather than the decidedly wonderful career path of taking people into the courtroom. . Messier managed to get a job as an assistant to Joseph Nicolas Deliel, who was the official astronomer for the French navy (planning a course, etc.) and perhaps most importantly, the dirty kingdom.

Delile had a newly built observatory, and the young Messier quickly moved there. Over the next decade, he made a number of important discoveries and received a leadership position in government as well as a number of honors and membership in the scientific community. As expected, comets remained a topic of particular interest to Messier, and he appeared to be good at getting rid of a distant comet before other astronomers could get their names on the approaching snowball. Even King Louis XV gave Messier a very impressive nickname, which is ” Mongoose Comets ”which, if you want a title engraved on your tombstone, must be the title.

But Messier’s later work on deep sky objects is better known today. Beginning in 1771, Messier began compiling a catalog of some of these hazy spots in the night sky — things we know today as nebulae, galaxies, and star clusters. The first list included 45 such items. The final list, which contained some items taken from Messier’s footnotes and margins, was a total of 110. These became known as miserable beings.

Since then, finding these Messier objects has become an access right for astronomers. Something like climbing Seven Summits in mountaineering. Except for a much smaller chance of dying in an avalanche.

And … well, it turns out that Messier 13 is something known as the Hercules Star Cluster, the Great Globular Cluster of Hercules, or the Globular Hercules Cluster. Messier was not the first to discover the M13. That credit goes to another comet man, Edmund Halley, who met him in 1714. But Messier put him in the catalog,

M13 is a group of hundreds of thousands of stars, but it is not a galaxy. In fact, it is one of many such blobs orbiting our good old galaxy, the Milky Way. It is located approximately 22,500 light-years from Earth. If you want to find it, see where its name suggests – in the constellation Hercules. But bring a telescope. Despite the number of stars in this group, their visible size is more than 11, and they are too faint to be seen with the naked eye.

The M13 is about 100 times denser in stars than the neighboring areas around the Earth. There are only about 135 stars within 50 light years from Earth. It is interesting to think about what a sky as big as a nearby neighbor might look like on a clear night. The stars of M13 are closer enough together than ever before, and then a pair eventually merge into a short-lived blue-and-white giant.

Something about M13 has made Hercules’ spherical cluster a recurring theme in science fiction novels. Maybe that’s why the SETI staff on the missing but not forgotten Arecibo telescope were looking for a target for a test message in 1974, they chose the M13. Somewhere between here and there is a letter with basic mathematical information, and then extends it to describe the structure of atoms, then elements, then DNA, then some basic facts about human life.

If anyone is out there and they have a really good recipient, they will have mail in about 22,450 years.

As with most of the images I show in this feature, the top image was taken on the small but smart Vespera telescope. And as usual with this feature, I expect some of you to do much better. But maybe not better than that …

Image from the Hubble M13 telescope.

Web countdownNASA, in collaboration with the European Space Agency and the Canadian Space Agency, will release the first color spectroscopic images and data for the James Webb Space Telescope during a television broadcast beginning at 10:30 a.m. Tuesday, July 12. And we’ll cover it live .

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