Messier 5’s big appeal in early summer’s globular feast – Astronomy Now

Messier 5 is a large, bright, and beautiful globular cluster, making it an eye-catching late spring object. Image: Ronald Brescher.

Messier 5 in Serpens Caput is a dynamic and beautiful globular cluster that is easily spotted through binoculars and successfully observed even through a moderately sized telescope. Globular clusters are extremely luminous, globular assemblages of up to a million stars crammed into a space spanning between just 10 and perhaps 200 light-years across. This makes them one of the most densely packed star systems in the universe. Globular stars are not only wonderful objects to observe, but also provide food for thought when you contemplate their sheer majesty, with the vast majority of them believed to be almost as old as the universe itself.

At this time of year, the prime-time night sky is packed with some of the best globular stars around, including the mighty Messier 13 in Hercules, Messier 3 in Canes Venatici, and a whole sackful near Ophiuchus. The good news is that the M5 easily holds its own against the stiff competition.

Messier 5 sits in the southwest quadrant of Serpens Caput, near its border with Virgo.

How to observe

Faintly visible to the unaided eye from pristine spots in the dark sky, Messier 5 (NGC 5904, magnitude +5.7) lies 22 arc minutes NW of the star 5 Serpentis (HIP 74975, magnitude +5.4). Remember to look for M5 in Serpens Caput and not in Serpens Cauda; The former is southwest of Hercules, while the area around M5 borders Virgo.

As darkness falls on an early June evening, M5 can be seen at an altitude of about 40 degrees south of the mid-northern latitudes, soon destined to cross the South Meridian at around 23:50 CET.

Messier 5 appears as an unresolved patch of light through a 10 x 50 binoculars, but a telescope with an aperture of only 75 or 80 mm (~three inches) has sufficient turning power to see the more distant stars of the cluster. It may also show that M5 is very slightly elliptical in shape, with its concentrated core offset mainly to the east and slightly to the north. Upgrade to a 150-200mm (six to eight inches) telescope for a truly unforgettable view. On a calm and transparent night, if you can push the magnification, you should be able to see (resolve) individual stars over a sphere about 10 arcminutes across and more or less down to the core of M5.

M5 is an epic imaging target, especially for long focal length telescopes. Extending between 17 and 23 arc minutes (depending on where you look in the literature), its overall bluish veil of mist is liberally speckled with beautifully contrasting golden suns. Messier 5’s big appeal in early summer’s globular feast – Astronomy Now

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