Night at the (Celestial) Museum

“Small French Paintings” learn the signal at the National Gallery of Art. The quiet exhibit, tucked again from the principal corridor, rapidly grew to become a favourite of mine. Away from all the bustle, these items had space to shine.

The globular cluster Messier 56, the “Dandelion,” glows amidst a stellar subject.
Rod Pommier / S&T Online Photo Gallery

If we think about ourselves as guests to a celestial artwork museum each time we observe, then right here’s a “small French painting” for you: Messier 56. I affectionately name this globular cluster the “Dandelion,” its uniform haze resembling the flower gone to seed. While most summer season observers head straight for the “Rembrandts” close by, like the widespread Hercules Globular Cluster (M13), a cease on this forgotten nook of Lyra rewards the affected person observer with a delightfully refined deal with.   

Street View

You’ll begin tonight’s journey with Vega, the brightest star of Lyra, a blue-white dazzling excessive in the east on summer season evenings. If your sky is darkish sufficient, take a second to understand the glittering “city lights” of the Milky Way close by. You’re wanting at our galaxy, which way back captured one other dwarf galaxy, and with it, M56.

Inside the doorways

Switching to 10×50 binoculars, cruise down from Vega to the principal physique of the Lyre. Snag Sulafat (γ Lyrae) at the southwest nook of the constellation’s parallelogram. Pan down  to Albireo, the favourite double star of summer season and the beak or eye of Cygnus, the Swan. (You would possibly have the ability to cut up it with binoculars when you can maintain them actually regular.)

Imagining the subject as a clock face, transfer again up in direction of Sulafat in order that Albireo exits the view at 5:00. Can you notice the “Oakland A’s” asterism getting into at 12:00? I’m claiming it: Urban 1! In 10×50 glasses, M56 is properly positioned as soon as the “A” is absolutely in view. 

Just above the middle of the subject is a fuzzy 8.3-magnitude spot that appears misplaced, as if somebody had tried to erase a star with an affordable pencil. Home run! The 230,000 solar lots of M56 shine throughout nearly 33 thousand light-years and can be even brighter in the event that they weren’t obscured by interstellar mud. This stellar metropolis is hurtling towards us at 145 kilometers per second (greater than 324,000 mph).  

"Oakland A's" asterism
The “Oakland A’s” or “Urban 1” asterism
Stellarium, with additions by writer

Leaning In

To resolve particular person stars on this cluster, you’ll want a telescope. Point your red dot finder simply lower than midway up from Albireo to Sulafat.

Finding M56
This diagram exhibits M56’s place on the sky (marked with telrad circles) halfway between Albireo and Gamma Lyrae.
Stellarium, with additions by writer

Through my 4.25-inch f/10 home-built Dobsonian, M56 begins to take larger form. Starting with low energy, work your way up towards larger magnification. With a 40mm plossl (27×) eyepiece, the view agrees with Stephen James O’Meara’s “dirty snowball” description in Deep-Sky Companions: The Messier Objects. An unresolved globe of suns glimmers dimly from the deep, inviting extra energy. At 45×, the cluster lives as much as its nickname of a dandelion taraxacum. And a 12.5mm Orthoscopic eyepiece (an important ocular for anybody), which yields 90×, reveals hints of particular person stars.

Making the Most of the Visit

Besides producing an even bigger image, larger magnification additionally darkens the background sky. The trick, particularly with a small telescope, is to seek out the proper steadiness between this distinction and brightness, as magnification additionally reduces an object’s floor brightness. Switching to 120× yields a dim and mushy view on my rig, so I am going again to 90×. Each optical practice and session is completely different, so it pays to check out various things.

I even seen my left eye produced a barely brighter picture. You’ll additionally discover that averted imaginative and prescient helps tease out particular person stars.

Let me know when you can resolve this magnificence into particular person stars in your scope. And what colour did you make it out to be?  (I seen a beautiful blue gray by an 8-inch f/8 Dob at 100×, together with some good decision.) Experiment, and enjoyment of the expertise.

Enjoying the View

Charles Messier found M56 on January 19, 1779, the similar night time he discovered an precise comet. He could have been upset 4 nights later, when this fuzzball hadn’t moved. But its stillness earned it the 56th entry in Messier’s famed catalog, a list of comet look-alikes.

Gazing by a modest instrument, now we all know we’re seeing a metropolis of suns 85 light-years throughout. At 33,000 light-years away, the stars’ photons we observe tonight began their journey when huge sheets of ice coated Earth. But the stars themselves have been fusing hydrogen for 13.7 billion years, near the age of the universe. Talk about “older than dirt!”

On Your Way Out

Perhaps  M56 is simply the first cease of your night. Then you may additionally pay a go to to these close by masterpieces — double star Albireo blazes in blue and orange in Cygnus, the Ring Nebula (M57) floats like a cosmic cheerio in the Milky Way close to Lyra, and the M13 globular cluster stuns in Hercules.

But perhaps you solely have time for one goal. This “small French painting” affords a quiet attraction. Appreciating it from historic and theoretical facets can add to our appreciation of this pretty sight. I hope you take pleasure in the view as a lot as I did! 

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