Globular Cluster Messier 53

M53 und NGC 5053: Globular cluster NGC 5053 (left) and M53 (top); Celestron Schmidt camera 140mm; Bl 1.6 on TP 2415 with old hypersensibilisation ca. 10 min exposure; © 1997 Frank H. Leiter


In February 1777, Charles Messier made the 53rd entry in his catalog of comet-like objects. Hidden behind the number M 53 is a globular cluster in the constellation Coma Berenices, first mentioned by Bode on 3 February 1775. Bode described him as «round and quite lively» (3 February 1775); Messier wrote almost exactly two years later: «Discovered nebulae without stars in Coma Berenices, a small bit distant of star 42 of this constellation according to Flamsteed notation. Round and conspicuous» (26 February 1777). [4, 281]

The globular cluster NGC 5053 was discovered by William Herschel on 14 March 1784 using his 18.7 inch aperture reflecting telescope. He cataloged it as VI 7 and noted: «An extremely faint cluster of extremely small stars with round nebula 8 or 10' diameter, veryfied at 240x beyond doubt.» [463]

Physical Properties of M 53

The integrated visual brightness of M53 is about +7.5 mag, the absolute about -8.8 mag, making it as bright as the well-known globular cluster M 13. Due to its distance of 65'000 to 69'000 light years (depending on the source), it appears to us to be significantly weaker than M 13. If M 53 were at the same distance, it would also be visible to the naked eye under good atmospheric conditions. The luminosity of the cluster is around 200'000 times that of our sun.

Messier 53: Image taken with the Hubble Space Telescope. © ESA/Hubble & NASA [215]

Although the star cluster appears perfectly round to the observer, it has a slight elongation of 9:10 with a positional angle of the long axis of 170°, which was first observed by Shapley. A pronounced concentration is visible towards the center. The diameter of M 53 is estimated to be about 55 light years, depending on the assumed distance.

Investigations by Baade, Cuffey, Margoni, and others resulted in a number of around 50 variable stars, including RR-Lyrae stars. The integrated spectral type of the Hercules globular cluster is approximately F4. The brightest stars are 13.8 mag. The average star brightness is 16.9mag. [4]

Revised+Historic NGC/IC, Version 22/9, © Dr. Wolfgang Steinicke [277]
DesignationNGC 5024
TypeGCL (V)
Right Ascension13h 12m 55.3s
Declination+18° 10' 11"
Diameter13 arcmin
Visual magnitude7.7 mag
Metric Distance17.900 kpc
Dreyer Description!, globular, B, vC, iR, vvmbM, st 12
Identification, RemarksM 53, GCL 22
NGC 5053: Section of Digitized Sky Survey [147]

Physical Properties of NGC 5053

About one degree away from M 53 is the globular cluster NGC 5053, which is comparable in size but is about 2.5 size classes fainter. Furthermore, NGC 5053 is by far not as strongly concentrated, but an evenly luminous surface that can only be resolved into single stars with telescopes with a larger aperture (beyond 20 cm). The brightest stars are 14.0 mag bright, but on average 16.6 mag.

NGC 5053 has very few stars for a globular cluster. With a diameter of approx. 100 light years, it contains only approx. 3500 stars - which results in a low density of 0.3 stars per cubic parsec. From studies on variables, a distance of around 55'000 light years was estimated, with a total luminosity that corresponds to 16'000 times that of our sun (remember: M 53 has 200'000 times the luminosity of our sun!). [4]

Revised+Historic NGC/IC, Version 22/9, © Dr. Wolfgang Steinicke [277]
DesignationNGC 5053
TypeGCL (XI)
Right Ascension13h 16m 27.0s
Declination+17° 41' 55"
Diameter10 arcmin
Visual magnitude9.0 mag
Metric Distance17.400 kpc
Dreyer DescriptionCl, vF, pL, iR, vgbM, st 15
Identification, RemarksGCL 23

Finding tip for the two globular clusters

The globular cluster M 53 is almost exactly one degree northeast of the 4.6 mag bright star Diadem (α Comae Berenices), which is easily visible to the naked eye. NGC 5053 is found one and a half degrees east of this star. While M 53 should be easy to find in even the smallest telescopes, even from light-polluted observation sites, NGC 5053 is a problematic object. It is easily visible even at a 114 mm aperture - but this requires excellent transparency of the atmosphere! The following applies to most weather conditions and observation sites: it should be 20cm upwards. To identify NGC 5053, use the close-up of the location card.

Chart Globular Cluster Messier 53
Globular Cluster Messier 53 in constellation Coma Berenices. Charts created using SkySafari 6 Pro and STScI Digitized Sky Survey. Limiting magnitudes: Constellation chart ≈ 6.5 mag, DSS2 close-ups ≈ 20 mag. [149, 160]

Visual Observation

200 mm aperture: M 53 appears as a bright, quite large globular cluster with a clear concentration towards the center. In this opening, the edge areas are broken up into individual stars. NGC 5053 mostly remains a faintly glowing surface, hardly set against the sky background, which does not show any concentration. In very good conditions this surface looks grainy.

— 1997, Frank H. Leiter

More Objects Nearby (±15°)


  • [4] «Burnham's Celestial Handbook: An Observer's Guide to the Universe Beyond the Solar System» by Robert Burnham; Dover Publications, Inc.; Voume I: ISBN 0-486-23567-X; Volume II: ISBN 0-486-23568-8; Volume III: ISBN 0-486-23673-0
  • [147] Aladin Lite;
  • [149] SkySafari 6 Pro, Simulation Curriculum;
  • [160] The STScI Digitized Sky Survey;
  • [215] Explore - The Night Sky | Hubble’s Messier Catalog; (2020-12-31)
  • [277] «Historische Deep-Sky Kataloge» von Dr. Wolfgang Steinicke; (2021-02-17)
  • [281] «Catalogue Nébuleuses et des Amas D'Étoiles» Observées à Paris, par M. Messier, à l'Observatoire de la Marine, hôtel de Clugni, rue des Mathurins. «Connoissance des temps ou connoissance des mouvements célestes, pour l'année bissextile 1784 » Page 227; (2021-02-21)
  • [463] «Catalogue of one thousand new nebulae and clusters of stars» William Herschel, Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London, 1 January 1786; DOI:10.1098/rstl.1786.0027