M15 - the Great Pegasus cluster

Credits: Keith Turnecliff, Long Itchington

A spectacular swarm of stars, M15 was discovered in 1746 by Jean-Dominique Maraldi, an Italian astronomer on the hunt for comets. This globular cluster is one of the densest ever discovered, with very hot blue stars and cooler orange stars becoming more concentrated toward its bright core. M15 is located in the constellation Pegasus 33,600 light-years from Earth. Shining with an apparent magnitude of 6.2, the cluster can be spotted with a pair of binoculars. The best time to observe it is in October. M15 was the first globular cluster known to host a planetary nebula (the gaseous shell of a dying star). This nebula, Pease 1, was detected in 1928 by Francis G. Pease and is one of only four planetary nebulas known to exist within a globular cluster. In this image, Pease 1 appears as the large, bright blue object to the left of the cluster’s center. This cluster has also been found to host a rare type of black hole at its center: an intermediate-mass black hole. Supermassive black holes are found at the center of galaxies and can be billions of times more massive than the sun. More diminutive “stellar” black holes, on the other hand, are on the order of 10 solar masses. The black hole thought to exist at the center of M15, however, is 4,000 times the mass of the sun. Hubble captured this image of M15’s core using observations in visible, infrared and ultraviolet light.

Facts about M15 by Keith Turnecliff

M15 (also designated NGC7078) is about 33,600 light-years from Earth, and 175 light-years in diameter. It has an absolute magnitude of −9.2, which translates to a total luminosity of 360,000 times that of the Sun. Messier 15 is one of the most densely packed globulars known in the Milky Way galaxy. Its core has undergone a contraction known as "core collapse" and it has a central density cusp with an enormous number of stars surrounding what may be a central black hole.
Home to over 100,000 stars, the cluster is notable for containing a large number of variable stars and pulsars, including one double neutron star system, M15-C. It also contains Pease 1, the first planetary nebula discovered within a globular cluster in 1928. Just three others have been found in globular clusters since then.

This star chart represents the view from Long Itchington for mid September at 10pm.
Credits: Image courtesy of Starry Night Pro Plus 8, researched and implemented by Keith Turnecliff.