M53, mag. +8.0, is a distant globular cluster that's positioned in the eastern part of the constellation of Coma Berenices. Located about 60,000 light years from the galactic center and 58,000 light years from Earth, M53 is one of the Milky Way's more outlying globulars. For comparison, M13, the Great Hercules globular cluster is a mere 25,100 light years distant.

M53 was discovered by German astronomer Johann Elert Bode on February 3, 1775. He described it as a "rather vivid and of round shape" nebula. Charles Messier independently rediscovered M53 on February 26, 1777. When observing it later in 1781 he compared it to another recently discovered distant globular M79. As with most globulars it was William Herschel who first resolved M53 into stars, finding it similar in appearance to M10.

The cluster is quite easy to find, lying just 1 degree northeast of mag. +4.3 star Diadem (α Com). Located 15 degrees directly east of M53 is orange giant star Arcturus (α Boo - mag. -0.05) the fourth brightest star in the night sky. M53 is best seen from northern latitudes during the months of March, April and May.

M53 globular cluster by the Hubble Space Telescope (NASA, The Hubble Heritage Team (AURA/STScI))

Finder Chart for M53 (also shown M3 and M64)

Finder Chart for M53 (also shown M3 and M64) - pdf format

Finder Chart for M49 (also shown M53, M58->M60, M64->M66, M84->M91 and M98->M100)

Finder Chart for M49 (also shown M53, M58->M60, M64->M66, M84->M91 and M98->M100) - pdf format

Through 10x50 binoculars, M53 appears as a very faint point of light that appears slightly fuzzy. A 80mm (3.1-inch) telescope reveals an oval shaped object with a bright centre and extended halo. To resolve stars a medium size scope is required; scopes of aperture 150mm (6-inch) to 200mm (8-inch) resolve some of the outer stars, especially under dark skies and using averted vision. The central part appears bright and crisp but unresolved. In total, the large outer halo extends for 13 arc minutes, although only about half of this is visible through medium size scopes. Large instruments of aperture 300mm (12-inch) or more resolve the globular well with a reasonably concentrated nucleus and stars spread across its full diameter.

Located a degree southeast of M53 is the peculiar globular cluster NGC 5053, a sparse magnitude 10 system containing only 3,500 stars. It appears as a grainy patch of weak light through an 8-inch scope.

Considering its vast distance from us the brightness and apparent size of M53 is impressive; it's an intrinsically large globular with a linear diameter of 220 light-years. The cluster contains at least 500,000 stars of which at least 67 are variable stars. It's estimated to be 12.67 billion years old.

M53 Data Table

Messier53
NGC5024
Object TypeGlobular cluster
ConstellationComa Berenices
Distance (kly)58.0
Apparent Mag.8.0
RA (J2000)13h 12m 55s
DEC (J2000)18d 10m 08s
Apparent Size (arc mins)13 x 13
Radius (light-years)110
Age (years)12,670M
Number of Stars>500,000
Notable FeatureA number of blue stragglers have been identified in the cluster

Sky Highlights - March 2017

Comet
Comet 41P/Tuttle-Giacobini-Kresak now visible with binoculars as it heads towards perihelion

Mercury
Mercury heading towards greatest elongation east

Minor Planet
Vesta now visible with binoculars and small telescopes.

The Planets
This Month's Guide

Algol Minima
Algol eclipse dates and times for March 2017

Northern Hemisphere
Evening
West:- Venus (mag. -4.8 to -4.1 - first half of month), Mars (mag. +1.3 to +1.5), Uranus (mag. +5.9), Mercury (mag. -1.5 to -0.4 - second half of month)
Midnight
Southeast:- Jupiter (mag. -2.3 to -2.5)
Morning
Southwest:- Jupiter
Southeast:- Saturn (mag. +0.5)

Southern Hemisphere
Evening
West:- Venus (first half of month), Mars, Uranus
Midnight
North:- Jupiter
East:- Saturn
Morning
West:- Jupiter
Northeast:- Saturn
East:- Neptune (mag. +8.0 - second half of month)

Deep Sky
Naked eye / binoculars:-
Melotte 111 - Mel 111 - The Coma Star Cluster (Open Cluster)
Messier 44 - M44 - The Praesepe (Open Cluster)

Telescopes:-
Messier 67 - M67 - Open Cluster
Messier 51 - M51 - The Whirlpool Galaxy (Spiral Galaxy)
Messier 97 - M97 - The Owl Nebula (Planetary Nebula)
Messier 101 - M101 - The Pinwheel Galaxy (Spiral Galaxy)
Messier 65 – M65 – Spiral Galaxy
Messier 66 - M66 - Intermediate Spiral Galaxy
Messier 95 - M95 - Barred Spiral Galaxy
Messier 96 - M96 - Intermediate Spiral Galaxy
NGC 4244 - Spiral Galaxy
NGC 4565 - Needle Galaxy - Spiral Galaxy

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