Facts About the Hercules Constellation
The Hercules constellation was first recorded by Ptolemy, the Greek astronomer, in the second century. The constellation is one of the largest in the night sky, and the story behind it is a tale of madness, strength and bravery.
If you have a telescope at home, you can easily locate the Hercules constellation and maybe even explore some of the deep space objects within.
Hercules Constellation Myth
The Hercules constellation is named after – you guessed it – Hercules, the Roman version of Heracles the Greek hero. Heracles is also associated with Gilgamesh, the Sumerian hero.
Not surprisingly, the constellation has a long history that dates back to Sumerian times.
In mythological tales, the Hercules constellation is associated with Heracles’ feat of defeating Ladon the dragon. Ladon was the guardian of the Hesperides garden. In the night sky, Ladon is represented by the constellation Draco.
Heracles was the son of Zeus and the mortal woman Alcmene. As the story goes, infant Heracles suckled Hera’s milk and became immortal. Hera was furious when she found out. She knew she couldn’t kill Heracles, but she could make his life miserable. So, Hera cast a spell on Heracles to make him go crazy and kill his children. When Heracles realized what had happened, he paid a visit to the Oracle at Delphi to find out how he could atone for what he had done.
The Oracle sent Heracles to serve King Eurystheus for 12 years. The King put Heracles to a series of tasks, which became known as the Labours of Heracles.
After completing these 12 labors, Heracles married Deianeira. Later on, his wife became worried that his attentions were being given to another woman. So, Deianeira gave Heracles a shirt which contained the blood of Nessus and the Hydra’s poison. The poison burned his flesh. Realizing what was happening, Heracles built a funeral pyre. His mortal self died, and his immortal self joined the other gods on Mount Olympus.
Zeus then placed Heracles in the sky to be known by the Roman name Hercules.
By Till Credner - Own work: AlltheSky.com
How Many Stars are in the Constellation Hercules?
Despite being the fifth largest constellation in the sky, Hercules has no first magnitude stars. However, it does have 12 stars with known planets.
The constellation has several stars:
- Cujam: Located 155 light years away and has a visual magnitude of 3.9111.
- Pollux is a giant star that is 34 light-years away.
- Pi Herculis: A bright giant star that’s 377 light years away. Pi Herculis is 4.5 times the size of the sun and 60 times the solar radius. It’s also 1,330 times brighter than the sun.
- Mu Herculis: A star system that is 27.11 light years away. The star’s traditional name translates to “left elbow of the kneeler.”
- Maasym: Located 370 light years away and has a visual magnitude of 4.402.
- Kornephoros: The brightest star in the constellation. Kornephoros is 139 light years away and has a visual magnitude of 2.81.
- Sophian (Eta Herculis): Sophian is about 112 light years away and has a mass that is 2.3 times that of the sun. The star is 50 times brighter than the sun.
- Marsic: A binary star with a visual magnitude of 5.1628. Marsic is 390 light years away. Its name comes from the Arabic word al-mirfaq, which translates to “the elbow.”
- Gamma Herculis: A septroscopic binary system that’s nearly 200 light years away. Its primary star is a giant that’s a rapid rotator. It has a rotational velocity of more than 130 km/s.
- Sarin: A star system that consists of two to five stars. Its primary star is a subgiant that’s twice the size of the sun. It is 75.1 light years away and has a visual magnitude of 3.126.
- Rasalgethi: A multi-star system that is 360 light years away. The system’s primary star is a bright red giant. The name of this star comes from the Araphic phrase “ra’s al-jaθiyy,” which translates to “head of the kneeler.”
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Deep Space Objects in Hercules
Hercules is also home to several deep space objects, including:
Messier 13 (Great Globular Cluster)
Messier 13 is a globular cluster with 300,000 stars. The cluster is more than 22,000 light years away and has a visual magnitude of 5.8. Edmond Halley discovered this cluster in 1714, and it can easily be seen with a telescope.
First discovered in 1777 by Johann Elert Bode, Messier 92 is a bright globular cluster with a visual magnitude of 6.3. It sits about 26,700 light years away and is one of the oldest globular clusters in the Milky Way. It’s estimated to be about 14.2 billion years old.
A planetary nebula that was discovered in 1825 by Friedrich Georg Wilhelm Struve. NGC 6210 is located 6,500 light years away.
Abell 39, the Planetary Nebulae
Abell 39 is 6,800 light years away. It’s one of the largest known spherical nebulae, with a radius of about 2.5 light years.
Abell 2199 Galaxy Cluster
A cluster of galaxies with more than 290 galaxies.
Hercules Cluster of Galaxies
Located 500 light years away, the Hercules Cluster contains 200 galaxies.
An active galaxy within the Hercules constellation. Hercules A appears to be just like any other elliptical galaxy, but when looking at it in radio waves, you can see that there are plasma jets radiating more than a million light years around the galaxy.
How to Find the Hercules Constellation
Hercules is one of the biggest constellations in the sky. Its neighboring constellations include Draco, Aquila, Corona Borealis, Boötes, Sagitta, Ophiuchus, Lyra, Vulpecula and Serpens Caput.
Hercules can be seen between the months of March and September. In June, the constellation is directly overhead at midnight.
Where is the Constellation Hercules Located in the Sky?
The Hercules constellation is located in the third quadrant of the northern hemisphere. Specifically, it can be seen at latitudes:
- +90 degrees
- -50 degrees
The Hercules constellation is one of the biggest in the sky. It’s relatively easy to spot in the dark night sky, and its deep space objects are certainly worth exploring. June is arguably the best time to catch a glimpse of this kneeling giant, as the constellation is directly overhead.