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Two brilliant stars lead to the constellation Hercules

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Tonight for April 22, 2014

Lyrid meteors fly in moonlight. Venus before dawn

Why not try locating one of the coolest constellations up there? The constellation Hercules the Kneeling Giant can be seen ascending in the east-northeast on these spring evenings. The chart at the top of this post shows the sky for around 9 to 10 p.m. local time, when all of these objects are well up in the northeastern to eastern sky.

The stars Arcturus and Vega can help you identify Hercules, whose most noticeable pattern is a squarish figure in the center of the constellation. This sky pattern, or “asterism,” is known as the Keystone in Hercules.

The Keystone is a helpful pattern for more reasons than one. First, it’s noticeable on the sky’s dome, so can lead your eye to Hercules. Also, the Keystone in Hercules can help you find the most fascinating telescopic object within the boundaries of this constellation. This object is a globular star cluster. Known to stargazers as M13 or the Great Cluster in Hercules, it’s barely visible the eye alone in the darkest of skies.

More on M13: Great cluster in Hercules

Binoculars show M13 as a nebulous star-like patch of light. And telescopes show stars both on the periphery of the cluster and toward its center. For a picture of M13 from the NOAO Image Gallery, look here.

This beautiful object is one of the galaxy’s oldest inhabitants. It’s a tightly packed spherical collection of about one million stars.

Use the brilliant stars Arcturus and Vega to find the constellation Hercules tonight!