M53 is an open cluster located 58,000 light-years away in the constellation Coma Berenices. It is not the most exciting object out there, that's for sure, but it is a nice target to capture nonetheless. M53 is home to hundreds of thousands of stars tightly packed together, and is estimated to be one of the more massive globular clusters in the Milky Way.
Object Designation: M53, NGC 5024
Also known as: N/A
Constellation: Coma Berenices
Object Type: Globular Cluster
Distance: Approximately 58,000 light-years away
Discovery: Johann Elert Bode in 1775
M53 is not difficult to image, and is a great beginner astrophotography target. It's not very exciting as there is no gas visible anywhere around it, or nearby galaxies that will fit in your frame, but there is a second cluster close-by that you can include in your shot!
M53 is best photographed in the Spring season. Below you'll see our photograph of M53 along with several useful bits of information.
M53 Astrophotography from a Dark Site
We photographed the M53 cluster from a Bortle 2 site at Utah Desert Remote Observatories with our 5" refractor telescope and monochrome camera. We only used R, G, and B filters, and just spent 3 hours total on it. Although 3 hours was enough to get a nice image, it would have been good to spend an extra couple of hours on it to have less noise in our background.
Below you can see our final processed image of Messier 53.
Telescope: Stellarvue SVX130
Mount: 10Micron GM1000 HPS
Guiding: ZWO ASI 290MM Mini
Accessories: Moonlite Nitecrawler focuser / Pegasus Astro Ultimate Powerbox
Processing: Pixinsight, final touches in Lightroom
Total Exposure Time: 3 hours
Exposure Time per frame: 30 seconds
Filters: Chroma 3nm R/G/B
How to Find Messier 53
The M53 globular cluster can be found about 58,000 light-years away from Earth in the constellation Coma Berenices. It has a diameter of 220 light-years.
To locate M53, first look for the bright star Arcturus in the neighboring constellation Bootes and follow an imaginary line from Arcturus towards the southeast. M53 can be found about halfway along this line, closer to Coma Berenices than Bootes.
The hundreds of thousands of stars in M53 are mostly faint individually, and the cluster has a magnitude of 7.7. It is not possible to find M53 with the naked eye, but it can be spotted with large binoculars and of course a telescope. A large telescope is the best instrument to use to observe Messier 53.
Other popular objects near M53 are for example the globular cluster M3, and the galaxies M64, M85, and M100.
Processing Messier 53
Processing M53 was easy, you just need to be sure to delete any frame that shows even the slightest of star trails within your cluster. If you don't, you'll include these blurry shots in your stacking and it will negatively affect your end result.
During the actual processing, there isn't much to do besides taking care of the noise, playing with curves for contrast, and fixing the saturation of all the stars. There isn't really any specific detail to bring out or any tricky areas to take care of.
Below you can see what a raw 30-second shot looks like using our Red, Green, and Blue filters.
Astrophotography Tips for Processing Images
f you're curious about how we process all of our images, we've put together a complete guide for you. It includes 20 lessons, tutorial videos, and our own custom PixInsight presets. This guide is designed to allow you to follow along step-by-step. We even provide raw data for you to practice your image processing skills. Find information on the guide here.
Messier 53 FAQ
Which constellation is Messier 53 located in?
You can find M53 in the constellation Coma Berenices.
How big is M53?
The M53 cluster has an apparent size of 13 arc-minutes. Its diameter is 220 light-years.
How far is Messier 53?
M53 lies approximately 58,000 light-years away from Earth.
How many stars are in M53?
Messier 53 contains hundreds of thousands of stars tightly packed together in a spherical shape.
How long should my exposure time be for this object?
M53 is a globular cluster, so the stars are very packed together and you must avoid making a blurry mess of the object at all cost. Your best best for this is to take short 30-second exposures, and either make sure your guiding is perfect, or turn it off completely to avoid unnecessary corrections. Of course, be sure to image on a windless night!
Should I use a filter to image M53?
Messier 53 is a broadband target so you can image it without any filter.
What equipment do I need to photograph Messier 53?
Given that Messier 53 is a compact globular cluster that doesn't appear very large, it is recommended to photograph it using a large telescope for the best results. You can of course use a telescope of any size, but try to pick a telescope with a long focal length! We don't recommend shooting this with just a DSLR lens and no telescope.
The Askar FRA600 can be a nice telescope for the price if you're a beginner looking for a good focal length instrument for M53 and most other popular targets.
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Messier 53 was an easy and quick target, with just 3 hours of total exposure. It is not a famous object to capture, but still good for beginners who aren't sure what to image next. We are happy to have added this to our Messier catalog!
Have you captured M53 in the past? Include your picture in the comments below along with some information about your gear so that everyone can see it!