Jump to content

Messier 4

Coordinates: Sky map 16h 23m 35.41s, −26° 31′ 31.9″
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Messier 4
Globular star cluster Messier 4
Observation data (J2000 epoch)
Right ascension16h 23m 35.22s[2]
Declination−26° 31′ 32.7″[2]
Distance6.033 kly (1.850 kpc)[3]
Apparent magnitude (V)5.6[4]
Apparent dimensions (V)26′.0
Physical characteristics
Mass8.4×104[5] M
Radius35 light-years [citation needed]
Metallicity = −1.07[6] dex
Estimated age(12.2 ± 0.2) Gyr[7]
Notable featuresClosest globular cluster
Other designationsNGC 6121[8]
See also: Globular cluster, List of globular clusters

Messier 4 or M4 (also known as NGC 6121 or the Spider Globular Cluster) is a globular cluster in the constellation of Scorpius. It was discovered by Philippe Loys de Chéseaux in 1745 and catalogued by Charles Messier in 1764.[9] It was the first globular cluster in which individual stars were resolved.[9]



M4 is conspicuous in even the smallest of telescopes as a fuzzy ball of light. It appears about the same size as the Moon in the sky. It is one of the easiest globular clusters to find, being located only 1.3 degrees west of the bright star Antares, with both objects being visible in a wide-field telescope. Modestly sized telescopes will begin to resolve individual stars, of which the brightest in M4 are of apparent magnitude 10.8.[9]



M4 is a rather loosely concentrated cluster of class IX and measures 75 light-years across. It features a characteristic "bar" structure across its core, visible to moderate sized telescopes. The structure consists of 11th-magnitude stars and is approximately 2.5' long and was first noted by William Herschel in 1783. At least 43 variable stars have been observed within M4.[9]

M4 is approximately 6,000 light-years away,[10] making it the closest globular cluster to the Solar System. It has an estimated age of 12.2 billion years.[7]

In astronomy, the abundance of elements other than hydrogen and helium is called the metallicity, and it is usually denoted by the abundance ratio of iron to hydrogen as compared to the Sun. For this cluster, the measured abundance of iron is equal to:

This value is the logarithm of the ratio of iron to hydrogen relative to the same ratio in the Sun. Thus the cluster has an abundance of iron equal to 8.5% of the iron abundance in the Sun. This strongly suggests this cluster hosts two distinct stellar populations, differing by age. Thus the cluster probably saw two main cycles or phases of star formation.[6]

The space velocity components are (U, V, W) = (–57 ± 3, –193 ± 22, –8 ± 5) km/s. This confirms an orbit around the Milky Way of a period of (116 ± 3) million years with eccentricity 0.80 ± 0.03: during periapsis it comes within (0.6 ± 0.1) kpc from the galactic core, while at apoapsis it travels out to (5.9 ± 0.3) kpc. The inclination is at (an angle of) 23° ± 6° from the galactic plane, thus it reaches as much as 1.5 ± 0.4 kpc above the disk.[11] When passing through the disk, this cluster does so at less than 5 kpc from the galactic nucleus. The cluster undergoes tidal shock during each passage, which can cause the repeated shedding of stars. Thus the cluster may have been much more massive.[6]

Notable stars


Photographs by the Hubble Space Telescope in 1995 found white dwarf stars in M4 that are among the oldest known stars in our galaxy; aged 13 billion years. One has been found to be a binary star with a pulsar companion, PSR B1620−26 and a planet orbiting it with a mass of 2.5 times that of Jupiter (MJ).[12] One star in Messier 4 was also found to have much more of the rare light element lithium than expected.[13]

CX-1 Is located in M4. It is known as a possible millisecond pulsar/neutron star binary. It orbits in 6.31 hours.[14]

Spinthariscope analogy


The view of Messier 4 through a good telescope was likened by Robert Burnham Jr. to that of hyperkinetic luminous alpha particles seen in a spinthariscope.[15]

Central black hole

Simulation of stellar motions in Messier 4
Simulation of stellar motions in Messier 4, where astronomers suspect that an intermediate-mass black hole could be present.[5][16] If confirmed, the black hole would be in the center of the cluster, and would have a sphere of influence (black hole) limited by the red circle.

In 2023, an analysis of Hubble Space Telescope and European Space Agency's Gaia spacecraft data from Messier 4 revealed an excess mass of roughly 800 solar masses in the center of this cluster, which appears to not be extended. This could thus be the best kinematic evidence for an intermediate-mass black hole[5][16] (even if an unusually compact cluster of compact objects like white dwarfs, neutron stars or stellar-mass black holes cannot be completely discounted).


  1. ^ Shapley, Harlow; Sawyer, Helen B. (August 1927). "A Classification of Globular Clusters". Harvard College Observatory Bulletin. 849 (849): 11–14. Bibcode:1927BHarO.849...11S.
  2. ^ a b Goldsbury, Ryan; et al. (December 2010). "The ACS Survey of Galactic Globular Clusters. X. New Determinations of Centers for 65 Clusters". The Astronomical Journal. 140 (6): 1830–1837. arXiv:1008.2755. Bibcode:2010AJ....140.1830G. doi:10.1088/0004-6256/140/6/1830. S2CID 119183070.
  3. ^ Baumgardt, H.; et al. (2021). "Accurate distances to Galactic globular clusters through a combination of Gaia EDR3, HST, and literature data". Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society. 505 (4): 5957–5977. arXiv:2105.09526. Bibcode:2021MNRAS.505.5957B. doi:10.1093/mnras/stab1474.
  4. ^ "Messier 4". SEDS Messier Catalog. Retrieved 21 July 2024.
  5. ^ a b c Vitral, E.; et al. (2023). "An elusive dark central mass in the globular cluster M4". Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society. 522 (4): 5740–5757. arXiv:2305.12702. Bibcode:2023MNRAS.522.5740V. doi:10.1093/mnras/stad1068.
  6. ^ a b c Marino, A. F.; et al. (November 2008). "Spectroscopic and photometric evidence of two stellar populations in the Galactic globular cluster NGC 6121 (M 4)". Astronomy and Astrophysics. 490 (2): 625–640. arXiv:0808.1414. Bibcode:2008A&A...490..625M. doi:10.1051/0004-6361:200810389. S2CID 15786238.
  7. ^ a b Caputo, F.; Castellani, V.; Quarta, M. L. (February 1985). "Reddening, distance modulus and age of the globular cluster NGC 6121 (M4) from the properties of RR Lyrae variables". Astronomy and Astrophysics. 143 (1): 8–12. Bibcode:1985A&A...143....8C.
  8. ^ "M 4". SIMBAD. Centre de données astronomiques de Strasbourg. Retrieved 2010-03-25.
  9. ^ a b c d "Messier Object 4". www.messier.seds.org. Retrieved 2023-11-13.
  10. ^ Baumgardt, H.; et al. (2021). "Accurate distances to Galactic globular clusters through a combination of Gaia EDR3, HST, and literature data". Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society. 505 (4): 5957–5977. arXiv:2105.09526. Bibcode:2021MNRAS.505.5957B. doi:10.1093/mnras/stab1474.
  11. ^ Dinescu, Dana I.; Girard, Terrence M.; van Altena, William F. (April 1999). "Space Velocities of Globular Clusters. III. Cluster Orbits and Halo Substructure". The Astronomical Journal. 117 (4): 1792–1815. Bibcode:1999AJ....117.1792D. doi:10.1086/300807.
  12. ^ "Ancient orbs". ESA/Hubble Picture of the Week. Retrieved 3 September 2012.
  13. ^ "A Cluster with a Secret". ESO Press Release. Retrieved 5 September 2012.
  14. ^ Kaluzny, J.; Rozanska, A.; Rozyczka, M.; Krzeminski, W.; Thompson, Ian B. (May 2012). "A second neutron star in M4?". The Astrophysical Journal Letters. 750 (1): L3. arXiv:1203.5971. Bibcode:2012ApJ...750L...3K. doi:10.1088/2041-8205/750/1/L3. S2CID 118323035. Retrieved 1 March 2021.
  15. ^ Celestial Handbook, Volume three: Pavo through Vulpecula Robert Burnham Jr. page 1703.
  16. ^ a b "NASA's Hubble Hunts for Intermediate-Sized Black Hole Close to Home". NASA. 23 May 2023. Retrieved 23 May 2023.

See also