Great Outdoors

Astronomy: Majestic beauty of Hercules Globular

By Gary Zientara
Posted 6/6/20

Everyone has a favorite object in the night sky. Mine is the Hercules Globular Cluster. It is one of the few objects that looks better through the eyepiece of a telescope than any …

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Great Outdoors

Astronomy: Majestic beauty of Hercules Globular

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Everyone has a favorite object in the night sky. Mine is the Hercules Globular Cluster. It is one of the few objects that looks better through the eyepiece of a telescope than any photograph ever taken.

The reason it looks so amazing through a telescope is twofold. First, it is very bright for an object that's 25,000 light years away. There are more than 300,000 stars lighting up this cluster. You can see it as a dim fuzzy dot through binoculars.

Second, it forms a spherical ball 150 light years in diameter that allows one to vicariously dive into it and jump back out merely by moving the telescope's focuser.

I tried to do some justice to the majestic beauty of M13 by darkening the true colors of this massive and very old denizen of the Milky Way. You can clearly see colors ranging from bright blue to dark red, which reflect the surface temperature of its member stars. Look at how bright and sharp the foreground stars are compared to the relatively dim background stars. This is because the foreground stars are at least 150 light years closer to Earth.

June star calendar

All of June, the twin titans Jupiter and Saturn shine brightly. The two largest planets in our solar system will be high in the southern predawn sky about an hour before sunrise (4:45 a.m. MDT). Jupiter will be the brightest with dimmer Saturn to its left.

As the month goes on, both gas giant planets will seem to drift farther toward the southwest. It's not due to their movement, but rather Earth's faster orbit is catching up to these slower-moving outer planets.

June 4 (Thursday): Mercury is at maximum elongation. Fleeting Mercury will be 11 degrees above the WNW horizon at 9 p.m. MDT. You'll be able to see it with the unaided eye, but binoculars will help. Mercury will look reddish like Mars because of Earth's atmospheric haze. If you miss it this evening, it'll hang around for several encores in the twilight hours before diving back down toward the sun after June 15.

June 5 (Friday): Full Strawberry Moon. No, the moon will not look red like a strawberry tonight. Rather the full moon in June is so named because that's when wild strawberries reach maturity. Hopefully we'll have enough rain for these little guys to reach the red fruit stage.

June 20 (Saturday): Summer Solstice. Most Americans celebrate the beginning of summer on Memorial Day. The official season of summer begins when the sun rises as far north of east as it possibly can. Earth's axis will tilt so that anywhere north of 60 degrees north latitude will experience 24 hours of sunlight.

For New Mexicans, we won't see that "midnight sun" but we will have 14 hours and 38 minutes of daylight.

Gary Zientara is owner and chief astronomer at Mount Sangre Observatory in Angel Fire.

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