M9: On the Snake Handler’s Leg

Let’s continue our survey of Messier objects. Check some basic info if you’re joining late here.

Check number 9, a globular cluster, which was discovered by Charles Messier himself in 1764:

Hubble view of M9


A lovely jewel box, isn’t it? To M. Messier, it was just a fuzzy patch to catalog (“a nebula without stars”) so it wouldn’t be mistaken for a comet in our own solar system. A good distinction, as this body is at least 40 billion times farther away than most comets we discover these days.

In the larger sky, a summer observer with a telescope can find it as seen right, courtesy of the Stellarium app (which I recommend). Ophiuchus might be faintly familiar to some readers thanks to this post from many years ago. M9 has latched on to the snake handler’s leg, like a fuzzy burr from a prickly plant.

You’ll notice the proximity to Scorpio, where other Messier objects are also numbered in the single digits.

That “star-less nebula” was eventually resolved into a tight sphere of individual suns by William Herschel and his next-generation telescope in the 1780s.

M9 is moving away from us at the breakneck speed of a half-million miles an hour, likely because it is orbiting relatively close to the galactic center. Obviously, any future explorer will need to generate even more velocity to catch up with it. Meanwhile, I suppose we just admire from afar.


About catholicsensibility

Todd lives in Minnesota, serving a Catholic parish as a lay minister.
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