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Welcome back to Messier Monday! We continue our tribute to our dear friend, Tammy Plotner, by looking at the the globular star cluster known as Messier 56. Enjoy!
In the 18th century, while searching the night sky for comets, French astronomer Charles Messier kept noting the presence of fixed, diffuse objects in the night sky. In time, he would come to compile a list of approximately 100 of these objects, with the purpose of making sure that astronomers did not mistake them for comets. However, this list – known as the Messier Catalog – would go on to serve a more important function.
Objects - Star - Cluster - Constellation - Lyra
One of these objects is Messier 56, a globular star cluster located in the small northern constellation of Lyra, roughly 32,900 light years from Earth. Measuring roughly 84 light-years in diameter, this cluster has an estimated age of 13.70 billion years. It is also relatively easy to spot because of its proximity to well-known asterisms like the celestial Swan, the Northern Cross, and the bright star Vega.
Years - Diameter - Ball - Stars - Towards
Spanning about 85 light years in diameter, this incredible ball of stars is moving towards planet Earth at a speed of 145 kilometers per second… yet still remains about 32,900 light-years away. As one of the less dense of the Milky Way’s halo globulars, it is also less dense in variable stars – containing only perhaps a dozen. But out of that twelve, there a very special one… a Cepheid bright enough to be followed with amateur instruments. However, astronomers never stopped looking for the curious – and they found what they were looking for!
The CURiuos Variables Experiment (CURVE) was performed on M56 in 2008. As P. Pietrukowicz (et al) wrote of the cluster in the accompanying study:
Field - Cluster - M56 - NGC - Search
“We surveyed a 6.5’×6.5′ field centered on the globular cluster M56 (NGC 6779) in a search...
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