Let’s continue our survey of Messier objects. Here is some basic info if you’re just reading here for the first time.
I like when astronomical objects are given real names rather than numbers. The craters of Mercury named for artists and writers. The moons of Uranus for Shakespearean characters. In Messier 11, some see a flock of flying ducks. Well, I see the stars. Do you see the birds?
image credit: By ESO – http://www.eso.org/public/images/eso1430a/, CC BY 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=35836207
This isn’t a globular cluster, one of those tightly bound groups that orbit well outside the disk of the Milky Way. This is an open cluster, like M6 and M7. Not as old though–the age estimate is a bit more than 300 million years, about as long as reptiles have crawled on the Earth. But before the dinosaurs. It’s still fairly compact but in subsequent billions of years, these stars will begin to drift apart.
There’s no exact count of the number of stars, but based on calculations of gravity and light production, the Wild Duck is massive. If our sun were a duck, the combined mass of M11 stars would be three or four adult elephants in comparison.
Would you be amazed that from six-thousand light years away, scientists can tell the original gas cloud that birthed this cluster might have been contaminated by a nearby supernova? The suspicious substance? Carbon. As in graphite or diamond.
I still don’t see a bird, but I like the name.
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