Well positioned in the evening sky for viewers in the northern hemisphere, Messier 2, also known as NGC 7089, is one of the largest globular clusters known, with about 150,000 stars stretching across 175 light years. Thought to be about 13 billion years old, the cluster’s eccentric orbit carries it as far as 171,000 light years from the center of the Milky Way and up to 165,000 light years above and below the galactic plane. Currently about 55,000 light years from Earth in the constellation Aquarius, M2 was discovered by the French astronomer Jean-Dominique Maraldi in 1746 and added to Charles Messier’s famous list in 1760. It is visible to the unaided eye on extraordinarily clear nights and easily resolved into a spectacular star swarm in moderate-size telescopes. As viewed by the Hubble Space Telescope, as seen here, M2 is nothing short of jaw dropping, with a dense core of close-packed stars.
This new Hubble image shows Messier 96 (M96 or NGC 3368), a spiral galaxy in the constellation Leo that lies about 35 million light-years away. About the same mass and size as the Milky Way, M96 resembles a giant maelstrom of glowing gas, rippled with dark dust along asymmetric arms that swirl inwards towards the nucleus.
When our galaxy was born, around 13,000 million years ago, a plethora of clusters containing millions of stars emerged. But over time, they have been disappearing. However, hidden behind younger stars that formed later, some old and dying star clusters remain, such as the so-called E 3. European astronomers have now studied this testimony to the beginnings of our galaxy.