Despite being one of the largest star patterns, the constellation itself is relatively dim but can be spotted as they are bordered by brighter constellations

David Prosper

Hercules is one of the standout heroes of Greek mythology, but his namesake constellation can be surprisingly hard to find! Once you find the stars of Hercules, look deeper, barely hidden in the space around his massive limbs and "Keystone" asterism are two beautiful globular star clusters: M13 and M92!

Since the constellation itself is relatively dim but bordered by brighter constellations, you can find the stars of Hercules by looking between the bright stars Vega and Arcturus. They are fairly easy to identify. Vega is the brightest star in the constellation Lyra and one of the three stars that make up the Summer Triangle. Arcturus is the brightest star in the constellation Bootes. You may be able to find Hercules "Keystone" asterism first; this distinct pattern of four stars is traditionally shown as the torso of the great hero.

Fluffy and dense

Globular star clusters appear fluffy, round and dense with stars, similar to a dandelion gone to seed, in contrast to the more scattered and decentralised patterns of open clusters. Open clusters are generally made up of young stars that are gradually spreading apart and found inside our Milky Way galaxy, while globular clusters are ancient clusters of stars that are compact, billions of years old, bound to each other and orbit around our galaxy. Due to their considerable distance, globular clusters are usually only visible in telescopes, but one notable exception is M13, also known as the Great Cluster or Hercules Cluster.

During very clear dark nights, skilled observers may be able to spot M13 without optical aid along the border of the Keystone, in between the stars Zeta and Eta Herculis. Readily visible as a fuzzy "star" in binoculars, in telescopes M13 explodes with stars and can fill up an eyepiece view with its sparkling stars, measuring a little over half the diameter of a full Moon in appearance!

When viewed through small telescopes, globular clusters can appear orb-like and without discernable member stars, similar in appearance to the fuzzy comae of distant comets. That's why comet hunters Edmund Halley and Charles Messier discovered and then catalogued M13, in 1714 and 1764 respectively. marking this faint fuzzy as a "not-comet" so as to avoid future confusion.

While enjoying your view of M13, don't forget to also look for M92! This is another bright and bold globular cluster, and if M13 wasn't so spectacular, M92 would be known as the top celestial sight in Hercules. M92 also lies on the edge of naked-eye visibility, but again, binoculars and especially a telescope are needed to really make it pop.

Far, far away

Even though M92 and M13 appear fairly close together in the sky, in actuality they are rather far apart: M13's distance is estimated at about 25,000 light years from Earth, and M92's at approximately 27,000 light years distant. Since M13 and M92 appear so close together in our skies, switching between these two clusters in your scope makes for excellent star-hopping practice.

Globular clusters are closely studied by astronomers for hints about the formation of stars and galaxies. The clusters of Hercules have even been studied by NASA's space telescopes to reveal the secrets of their dense cores of hundreds of thousands of stars.

(This article is distributed by NASA's Night Sky Network. Visit nightsky.jpl.nasa.gov for more space news)


Constellation: a group of stars forming a recognizable pattern

Asterism: a prominent pattern or group of stars that is smaller than a constellation

Keystone: an asterism formed by four relatively bright stars in the constellation Hercules: Pi, Eta, Zeta and Epsilon Herculis

Light year: the distance light travels in one year. Light zips through interstellar space at 3,00,000 km per second and 9.46 trillion km per year

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Origin: The word in use since the 16th Century is assumed to have been derived from the Middle English words trendle to refer to "wheel, suspended hoop", which, in turn, is from the Old English word trendel, meaning "ring, disk". It is also perhaps derived partly from the Old French word trondeler, meaning "to roll down, fall down".

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Meaning: The word scarce is used to denote that something is insufficient for the demand and is used especially for food, money and other such resources.

Origin: The word, which has been around since 1300, is derived from Old French scars meaning "scanty", which according to the Oxford English Dictionary is from Vulgar Latin In the past two centuries, the usage of the word has been decreasing and it is currently at its lowest in this period.

Usage:  With jobs so scarce in the market, many young graduates are finding it hard to get their careers started.

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Origin:  The noun form of the word has been in use from around 1200. It is derived from Old French anguisse, angoisse meaning "choking sensation, distress, anxiety which is from Latin angustia for "tightness, narrowness". The verb form, meanwhile, has been around since the mid 14th Century. Even though the word has been around for centuries, its usage saw a steady decline from 1800 till around the 1950s. While its usage was steady from then till about the turn of the century, it has again seen an increase in usage since then.

Usage: The COVID-19 pandemic has left several families in anguish worldwide.

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Meaning: This adjective means not readily investigated, interpreted, or understood.

Origin: This word is derived from the Latin adjective 'inscrutabilis' which can be traced back to the verb scrutari, meaning "to search or examine". This word was first used in the English language in 15th Century.

Usage: He stood silent and inscrutable.

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