Messier object number twelve. Also in the constellation of Ophiuchus, which has been written up here before, as long ago as fifteen years. M12 is another of those globular clusters, a grouping of stars so dense that members may fall into associations–double stars.
Image credit: ESA/Hubble & NASA
To Charles Messier, its 1764 discoverer, M12 was another fluffy patch in the sky to be catalogued so as not to be confused with a comet. With his next generation telescope of the 1780s, William Herschel was able to identify the fluff as a patch of stars.
M12 is distinctive from other globular clusters for being a bit more diffuse. Compare with the last Ophiuchan in the series, M10, and the Wild Duck, a young open cluster.
Globulars are very old, much older than the sun. If our sun were middle-aged, forty-five years old, the Gumball would easily be a centenarian, pushing 130. M12 has passed through the plane of the galaxy dozens of times and has lost about 80% of its original members, stars stripped away by the gravity of the more populous sections of our galaxy.
One interesting astronomical fact and one conjecture:
- It is heading toward us at about 35,000 mph, but there is no danger of any sort. Eventually its orbit will curve away from us.
- The Gumball will dissipate in another half billion years after a few more passes through the Milky Way’s disk. Its remnant 200,000 stars will spread into deep space like fluff in the wind.
If you are reading late in the series, check some basic info here.