2021, Early July: Hero Highest

July, 2021:  During the early evening sky, Hercules is nearly overhead as evening twilight ends.  The constellation has a spectacular star cluster.

At the end of evening twilight during early July, Hercules is high in the south, one-third of the way from Vega to Arcturus.
Chart Caption: At the end of evening twilight during early July, Hercules is high in the south, one-third of the way from Vega to Arcturus.

by Jeffrey L. Hunt

Step outside near the end of evening twilight, about two hours after sunset during early July.  Look high in the southern sky.  Notice two bright stars.  Arcturus, topaz in color, is high in the south-southwest.  Bluish Vega is high in the south, approaching overhead.

Draw a line in the sky between the two stars.  About one-third of the way from Vega to Arcturus is Hercules.  The Hero is upside down.  His body is known as the “Keystone.”

Messier 13: The globular cluster in Hercules. (Photo credit: NASA/ESA/Space Telescope Institute)
Photo Caption – Messier 13: The globular cluster in Hercules. (Photo credit: NASA/ESA/Space Telescope Institute)

A magnificent star cluster, commonly known as Messier 13 (M13), is far beyond the stars that make the constellation’s keystone shape.

In a dark location, without bright streetlights, the star cluster resembles a fuzzy star.  Through a binocular, the cluster looks clearly different from the pinpoint stars.

Through a telescope at low power, individual stars become visible, but they seem to merge into a clump at the center, but the stars there are light years apart.

The cluster is a magnificent globular cluster and is frequently referred to as “one of the most spectacular globulars in the sky.”

The dazzling stars in Messier 15 look fresh and new in this image from the NASA/Hubble Space Telescope, but they are actually all roughly 13 billion years old, making them some of the most ancient objects in the Universe.
Photo Caption – Messier 15, an example of a globular cluster. (NASA Photo)

Unlike clusters like the Pleiades, Hyades, or Beehive, the globulars revolve around the galactic center outside the plane of the Milky Way.  About a hundred years ago, they were mapped to demonstrate the location of the galactic center – behind Sagittarius – and the sun’s location is far from the galactic center.

Through a telescope, a globular’s first impression is that of a cotton ball.  Then at a closer look individual stars are visible along with the central concentration of stars.  These clusters could have a million stars in them.

The Pleiades star cluster.
Photo Caption – The Pleiades star cluster is an example of an open or galactic cluter. (U.S. Naval Observatory)

In comparison, the more famously named clusters revolve around the galaxy in the galactic plane.  The clusters may have several hundred stars in them and they seem to have lots of space between them.  These clusters are named open clusters or galactic clusters.

To find M13, point your binocular between Zeta Herculis (ζ Her on the chart) and Eta Herculis (η Her).

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Categories: Astronomy, Sky Watching

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