M68 is a magnitude +7.8 medium size globular cluster located in eastern Hydra that was discovered by Charles Messier on April 9, 1780. Although not as spectacular as other globulars such as Omega Centauri, 47 Tucanae or M13, it's easily visible with 7x50 or 10x50 binoculars where it appears obviously non-stellar. For owners of medium and large size amateur scopes this is quite a rewarding object.
Hydra is the night sky's largest constellation. However, despite it's great apparent size it contains only one reasonably bright star, Alphard (α Hya - mag. +2.0). Still locating M68 is quite easy since it's positioned just south of the relatively bright quadrangle of Corvus and 3.5 degrees southeast of star β Corvi (mag. +2.6).
Due to its declination of -26.7 degrees, M68 is best seen from the Southern Hemisphere during the months of March, April and May. From northern temperate locations it never climbs very high above the horizon.
Through a small 80mm (3.1-inch) telescope, M68 shows a bright centre surrounded by a fuzzy halo that gradually fades to the edges. On nights of good transparency and seeing the outer parts of M68 are resolved with a 200mm (8-inch) reflector. The core is not compact and amateur scopes of the order of 300mm (12-inch) or greater will resolve stars across the complete cluster face. In total, M68 spans 11 arc minutes of apparent sky although it appears somewhat smaller through the eyepiece.
M68 is located approximately 33,000 light-years distance. It has a spatial diameter of about 105 light-years and is estimated to contain more than 100,000 stars.
M68 Data Table
|Object Type||Globular cluster|
|RA (J2000)||12h 39m 28s|
|DEC (J2000)||-26d 44m 34s|
|Apparent Size (arc mins)||11 x 11|
|Age (years)||11.2 Billion|
|Number of Stars||>100,000|
|Notable Feature||Relatively metal poor cluster|