See the Serpent's Star City

The most impressive regions of the Milky Way return to prominence in summer.

By Rich Talcott|Friday, May 30, 2014
Rich Talcott

About the Map: It depicts the sky from midnorthern latitudes at the following times: midnight June 1, 11 p.m. June 15 and 10 p.m. June 30.

What You Can See: MS is one of the northern sky's brightest globulars, along with M13, which passes nearly overhead on June evenings. 

The most impressive regions of the Milky Way return to prominence during the warm nights of early summer. The section surrounding our galaxy’s center in Sagittarius teems with glowing clouds of gas and dust — stellar nurseries like the one that gave birth to our sun some 4.6 billion years ago. But this area also harbors an often-overlooked component of the Milky Way. Globular star clusters — vast collections that hold anywhere from tens of thousands to a few million suns — roam the periphery of our galaxy’s central bulge. One of the best reaches its peak in the southern sky late on June evenings.

Globular cluster M5 lies nearly 25,000 light-years from Earth in the constellation Serpens Caput (the Serpent’s Head). Look for it approximately 15 degrees (about two binocular fields) due north of Saturn. M5 glows at magnitude 5.7, which makes it one of the brightest globulars in the northern half of the sky. This puts it within reach of naked eyes from a dark-sky location and binoculars from a typical suburban backyard.

But a magnificent view awaits anyone who points a telescope at M5. Even a 4-inch scope starts to resolve its stars. And a 10-inch instrument reveals more than 100 individual suns that appear to form streamers radiating into the empty fields beyond the cluster’s edge. 

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