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Object of the Month August 2023

John Hobbs | Published on 12/17/2023



by Glenn Chaple

Messier 56 Globular Cluster in Lyra (Magnitude 8.3, Size 8.8’)


            During an evening at the 1982 Stellafane Convention, I learned exactly why Charles Messier created his catalog of faux comets. An attendee asked if I had a star atlas, as he had spotted with his telescope a comet-like object in the area between Lyra and Cygnus. Excitement quickly turned to disappointment as the atlas identifed the object as an 8th magnitude globular cluster discovered by Messier in January, 1779.

            The 2000.0 coordinates for Messier 56 are: RA 19h16m35.6s, Dec +30o11’00.5”. I usually pick it up by aiming at a spot midway between gamma (γ) Lyrae and the beautiful double star Albireo (beta [β] Cygni) and then nudging the scope slightly towards Albireo. A low power sweep of the area will turn up a small roundish glow. No wonder Messier and my friend at Stellafane thought they had uncovered a comet!

            M56 certainly doesn’t get the attention that Lyra’s other Messier object, the “Ring Nebula” M57, does. I’ve seen the Ring many hundreds of times with a variety of instruments, while I can count on one hand the number of times M56 has graced my eyepiece field.  Those earlier observations of M56 were all made with small-aperture instruments, so I recently returned to M56 with a 10-inch f/5 reflecting telescope and a magnifying power of 208X.  Even then, the cluster was barely resolved, with perhaps a dozen visible stars of around magnitude 13 to 14.                  

            Studies indicate that M56 is about 33,000 light years from earth. It spans a diameter of some 84 light years.




















Messier 56 Finder Chart











Messier 56 Image


Mario Motta, MD.  (ATMoB)

I imaged M56 with my 32 inch, in Lum, and RGB filters with my ZWO ASI 6200 camera. About 2 hours total imaging.processed in PixInsight. ”