This sparkling picture taken by the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope shows the centre of globular cluster M 4. The power of Hubble has resolved the cluster into a multitude of glowing orbs, each a colossal nuclear furnace.
M 4 is relatively close to us, lying 7200 light-years distant, making it a prime object for study. It contains several tens of thousand stars and is noteworthy in being home to many white dwarfs — the cores of ancient, dying stars whose outer layers have drifted away into space.
In July 2003, Hubble helped make the astounding discovery of a planet called PSR B1620-26 b, 2.5 times the mass of Jupiter, which is located in this cluster. Its age is estimated to be around 13 billion years — almost three times as old as the Solar System! It is also unusual in that it orbits a binary system of a white dwarf and a pulsar (a type of neutron star).
Amateur stargazers may like to track M 4 down in the night sky. Use binoculars or a small telescope to scan the skies near the orange-red star Antares in Scorpius. M 4 is bright for a globular cluster, but it won’t look anything like Hubble’s detailed image: it will appear as a fuzzy ball of light in your eyepiece.
On Wednesday 5 September, the European Southern Observatory (ESO) will publish a wide-field image of M 4, showing the full spheroidal shape of the globular cluster. See it at www.eso.org on Wednesday.
ESA/Hubble & NASA
About the Image
|Release date:||3 September 2012, 10:00|
|Size:||4165 x 4132 px|
About the Object
|Name:||M 4, Messier 4, NGC 6121|
|Type:||• Milky Way : Star : Grouping : Cluster : Globular|
• X - Star Clusters Images/Videos
|Distance:||7000 light years|
|Position (RA):||16 23 35.48|
|Position (Dec):||-26° 31' 29.48"|
|Field of view:||3.48 x 3.45 arcminutes|
|Orientation:||North is 9.5° right of vertical|
Colours & filters
|435 nm||Hubble Space Telescope|
|606 nm||Hubble Space Telescope|
|814 nm||Hubble Space Telescope|