Sunday, September 16, 2012

Globular Cluster Series (Part 24): NGC 6541

Boy, it seems like I've been showcasing globular clusters for a long time now (and in a sense I have, stretching back to June of last year), but I'm still only up to twenty-four so far. Even accounting for the fact that from my location I can see "only" about 80% of the sky, and that there are some globular clusters that are realistically too small and faint for me to capture, there are probably still at least 50–75 globular clusters I can feasibly hope to capture. So, I'm barely a third done at this point, at most.

Anyway, the globular cluster I want to showcase today is called NGC 6541. It's the only globular cluster in the small southern constellation Corona Australis (the Southern Crown), and it turns out to be a lovely little gem of a cluster about 22,800 light-years away from us. Despite this great distance it appears quite large on the sky at 15.0 arc-minutes in diameter, about half the size of the full Moon. This puts its physical size at just about 100 light-years, making it in the upper 50% of globular clusters.

NGC 6541 in Corona Australis.

Although far from the Sun, NGC 6541 is pretty close to the galactic center, only about 6,800 light-years away. For such a large and pretty cluster I wasn't able to find too much information about it other than that it was discovered in 1826, which strikes me as fascinating. I mean, we've known about the existence of this cluster for less than 200 years, less time than the United States has been a country.

In many ways, astronomy, despite being the oldest science, is still completely fresh and new. We've only been able to build telescopes for the past 400 years, and it wasn't until the last century that we've been able to create telescopes capable of exploring more than the minuscule sliver of the electromagnetic spectrum that is able to penetrate our atmosphere. We still know so little about things in our universe, or even our own galaxy, because it's only been within the last 50 years or so that we've developed the ability to even detect them. So much to learn and discover...enough to last many lifetimes.

And that's why I love astronomy.

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