Hercules Hunts The Zenith

August 15, 2016
Arp 272 in Hercules - When galaxies collideCredit Hubble / NASA
Arp 272 in Hercules - When galaxies collide

This week Hal labors over the details of the constellation Hercules.

Did you know that the strongest man who ever lived is looking at you right now? If you believe in ancient mythology, you know the one I'm talking about. The constellation Hercules is high in southern Colorado skies right now, and it’s filled with interesting things to look at. 

Hercules is the fifth largest of all the 88 constellations, but it doesn’t have any of the brightest stars in the sky within its borders.

To astronomers, however, there are even more interesting things up there. We’ve already talked about the Hercules cluster, a ball of some 500,000 stars orbiting the Milky Way galaxy. But Hercules contains another globular cluster on Charles Messier’s famous list, M 92. Slightly smaller and less dramatic than its larger neighboring cluster, M 92 is still quite interesting. It contains stars that may be as old as 14.2 billion years, very nearly as old as the universe itself. I n about 14,000 years M 92 will be very near what we think of as the North Pole in the sky. Instead of having a polestar, will have a pole cluster.

One of the most fascinating objects in the Hercules constellation is the name Arp 272 . You’ll need a big telescope and dark skies to see it, but if you can make out the light that is been traveling for 450 million years, you’ll see something that is both remarkable and beautiful, and may well be a harbinger of things to come for us. This object in Hercules is actually three spiral galaxies like our own Milky Way, in the process of colliding. The galaxies are slicing through one another, just as we are doomed to do with the Andromeda galaxy, which is on a collision course with us. You’ve only got 2 billion years to get ready. I’m suggesting helmets and seatbelts. But it’s going to be gorgeous.

If you’d like to take a closer look at Hercules, or any of the other wonderful and amazing things in the sky, please visit CSASTRO.org for a link to information on our monthly meetings and our free public star parties!

This is Hal Bidlack for the Colorado Springs Astronomical Society, telling you to keep looking up, Southern Colorado!