There are comets, and then there are large comets. In 1743 and 1744 the fire that spread to heaven was complete next.
The comet is said to have become bright enough to be seen in daylight and to have passed Venus in the evening sky as it circled the Sun. This created a long and clearly visible double tail, which was already unusual. Then, as it reaches perihelion and orbits the Sun, the comet’s tail splits into six clearly defined rays. In the morning, when the comet’s head was hidden below the horizon, these six tails were bright and visible, spreading like a kind of “fan” from the sun to the sky.
Why the comet gives this shape is still a mystery. There were only one or two broad tails, but they had a very dusty dark area. However, it has been recorded by astronomers around the world, including in China, where forensic astronomers claim that the comet really did make a cracking sound. It was a very strange comet.
Catherine, not yet glorified, watched the comet as she went to Russia to be married. He took it as the beginning of his future glory because… of course he did.
Back in France, the young Messiah also seems to have seen a comet, which instead of taking him to court with a wonderful career, catapulted him into the future of astronomy. Messiah managed to secure a position as official astronomer (course plotting, etc.) for the French Navy, and more importantly, assistant to the filthy rich Joseph-Nicolas Delisle.
Delisle was a newly built observatory, and the young Messer soon settled there. Over the next decade, he made several important discoveries, held high positions in the government, and received several honorary degrees and fellowships in the scientific community. It can be assumed that comets were of particular interest to Messier, and he was adept at peering at distant comets before other astronomers wrote their names on nearby snowballs. King Louis XVI even gave Messier a rather flattering nickname Ferrite of Comets.” If you are going to have a title engraved on your tombstone it should be one.
But it was Messier’s close work with the most memorable deep sky objects today. As early as 1771, Messiah began cataloging some of these obscure spots in the night sky—what we know today as nebulae, galaxies, and constellations. 45 such objects are included in the first list. The final list, including notes by Messrs. and some items taken from the margins, totals 110. Mixed materials.
The discovery of these Messianic objects has been a right of passage for astronomers ever since. Like climbing seven peaks on a mountain. You are less likely to die in an avalanche.
And… well, Messiah 13 became the Hercules Star Cluster, known as the Great Globular Cluster of Hercules or the Hercules Globular Cluster. Messier didn’t actually see M13 at first. This honor goes to another comet boy, Edmund Halley, who encountered it in 1714. But the Messiah listed it.
M13 is a cluster of millions of stars, but not a galaxy. In fact, it’s one of the many places around our good old Milky Way. It is located about 22,500 light years from Earth. If you want to find it, look where the name goes – on the sign of Hercules. But bring a telescope. Despite the number of stars in this cluster, its visual magnitude is greater than 11 and is barely visible to the naked eye.
M13 is 100 times denser in stars than around Earth. There are only 135 stars within 50 light years of Earth. On a clear night, it’s interesting to think what it would be like for the next-door neighbors to see different levels of the sky. M13’s stars are closest to each other at any given moment, and then the pair briefly morph into a blue-white giant.
Some of the Hercules globular clusters about M13 have made it a regular topic in science fiction novels. Perhaps in 1974, the SETI crew picked up M13 in search of an experimental message target for the now-gone-but-not-forgotten Arecibo telescope. Here is a message that covers basic information about mathematics, then describes the structure of atoms, then elements, then DNA, and then some basic information about human life.
If someone is out there and has a very good receiver, they will receive mail in about 22,450 years.
Like most of the images I run in this feature, the image above was taken with my small but beautiful Vespera telescope. As always, I hope some of you do better with this feature. But maybe not for the better.
Countdown to the Web: “In collaboration with NASA, ESA and CSA, JAMES will broadcast the first full-color images and spectroscopic data from the space telescope during a telecast beginning Tuesday, July 12, at 10:30 a.m. ET.” We will stream it live.
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