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M12 - The Gumball Cluster in Ophiuchus | Astrophotography Tips & Pictures

Messier 12 is an impressive globular cluster in the constellation Ophiuchus. It is bright and very compact, and got the nickname of "Gumball Cluster". In this post, you will find information, images, and tips to photograph this beautiful cluster.

Object Designation: M12, NGC 6218

Also known as: The Gumball Cluster

Constellation: Ophiuchus

Object Type: Globular Cluster

Distance: 16,400-23,000 light-years away

Magnitude: 7.7

Discovery: Charles Messier on May 30, 1764

The Gumball Cluster is not a difficult target for beginner astrophotographers. Because of how dense the cluster is, you will need to make sure your mount is tracking well and that you're imaging on a night free of wind to avoid any messy results. Being in Ophiuchus, M12 is a nice Summer astrophotography target.


M12 Astrophotography with a RASA 8 and Color Camera

August 2023

Capturing Messier 12 was not one of my goals this Summer, but I decided to fit it in anyway at the beginning of a night before switching to another target. I only spent one hour on M12, which ended up being just enough to obtain a beautiful image thanks to the dark Bortle 2 skies of Utah Desert Remote Observatories paired with the f/2 optics of the RASA 8 telescope.

The image turned out great, but very faint hints of IFN throughout the field of view make me wish I spent more than one hour on this target!

Messier 12 Gumball Cluster Astrophotography


Camera: ZWO ASI2600MC

Telescope: Celestron RASA 8

Mount: 10Micron GM1000 HPS

Processing: Pixinsight, with R-C Astro plugins. Final touches in Skylum Luminar Neo


Total Exposure Time: 1 hour

Exposure Time per frame: 30 seconds

Filters: N/A

Gain: 100


How to Locate M12

The Gumball Cluster is located between 16,400 and 23,000 light-years away in the constellation Ophiuchus, not far from the large and colorful Rho Ophiuchi molecular cloud complex.

How to find Messier 12 in the night sky, map

Messier 12 appears bright and very compact in photographs, but this is not the case visually. The cluster cannot be seen with the naked eye, and you will need very dark skies to be able to spot it with a pair of binoculars. M12 is best observed with a telescope, preferably 8" or larger.

The easiest way to find M12 by star hopping is to first locate the bright orange star Antares, in the nearby constellation Scorpius. From Antares, look north, and stop halfway before reaching the Hercules constellation. M12 will be there, very close to Messier 10.

Besides M10, M12 is also close to another globular cluster, M14. The best time to observe and photograph the Gumball Cluster is in July.


Messier 12 Cluster Information


Charles Messier portrait
Charles Messier

Messier 12 was discovered on May 30, 1764 by Charles Messier. At the time, Messier believed that M12 was a nebula without any stars, and it wasn't until 1783 that William Herschel confirmed the object was in fact a cluster with many individual stars.

Charles Messier's original notes upon finding M12 were:

"Nebula discovered in the Serpent, between the arm and the left side of Ophiuchus: this nebula doesn't contain any star, it is round & its light faint; near this nebula there is a star of 9th magnitude".


The First Picture of M12

When was the first astrophotography image of the Gumball Cluster taken, and by who?

The picture you see below is the first known image of M12, and it was taken by Isaac Roberts on June 27th, 1892.

The exposure time was 2 hours using a 20-inch reflector telescope. You can see many individual stars, as well as the bright core.

First astrophotography picture of Messier 12


Messier 12 by NASA

On March 28, 2011, NASA and ESA released an image of Messier 12 taken by the Hubble Space Telescope. The field of view is approximately 3.2 x 3.1 arcminutes and you can see most of the cluster in it.

You can see the photograph below, which shows the cluster in all its beauty! It has bright stars that are mostly orange and blue, and a core that isn't as compact as you'd expect after looking at amateur astrophotography pictures of the cluster.

Messier 12 by the Hubble Space Telescope NASA


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How to Process Messier 12

Processing globular clusters like M12 is easy, especially when there is no background galaxies or nearby gasses to deal with.

Single 30-sec shot of M12 before stacking
What a single 30-sec shot of M12 looked like before stacking

The processing was very quick and simple. It did not involve any tricky steps and took about 20 minutes or less. For these types of targets, I follow my beginner processing workflow which you can access and use as well. It also contains raw data and walkthrough videos on how to process basic images. More advanced workflows are also available.


Utah Desert Remote Observatories

Messier 12 was photographed from a Bortle 2 sky using our RASA 8 telescope and one shot color camera hosted at Utah Desert Remote Observatories. To learn more about this remote observatory, check out the video below!

If you would like to permanently install your rig next to ours under desert skies, you can contact the owner at


Messier 12 FAQ

  • What is M12?

M12 is a globular cluster also known as the Gumball Cluster.

  • In which constellation is the Gumball Cluster located?

M12 can be found in the constellation Ophiuchus.

  • How big is M12?

Messier 12 has an apparent size of about 16 arcminutes. It has a diameter of 75 light-years.

  • How far is the Gumball Cluster?

M12 is believed to be between 16,400 and 23,000 light-years away from Earth.

  • When was the first ever picture of Messier 12 taken?

The first photograph of M12 was taken on June 27th, 1892 by Isaac Roberts.

  • How long should my exposure time be when photographing M12?

Because this is a globular cluster, we suggest taking short exposures of 30 seconds so that you do not take the risk of trashing too many long exposure frames if wind or tracking issues happen during the night. Any type of unwanted movement, even slight, will make the globular cluster look like a mess and you will not be able to stack these frames.

  • Should I use a filter to image M12?

M12, like most globular clusters without any nebulosity, is a good broadband target and so you will not need any filter to capture it.

  • What equipment do I need to photograph the Gumball Cluster?

You can capture this object with any telescope, but the larger the better!


Final Thoughts

The Gumball Cluster is a bright and easy target to capture during the Summer. It is of course not as exciting as the many beautiful nebulae visible in the sky during the Summer months, but it still is a cool object to capture if you have one or two hours to spare!

Have you imaged M12? If so, upload your picture in the comments! We'd all love to see your work :)

Make sure to follow us on Facebook, Instagram, and YouTube to stay up to date with our work!

Clear Skies,

Galactic Hunter



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