The north-eastern horizon at 9 p.m. Click on an image to enlarge.
October 22nd, 2015
With the constellation of Cassiopeia the Queen rising high over the northern-eastern horizon, now’s a good time to seek out one of the best star clusters of the season.
A definite favorite, this cluster has a very distinctive shape that has given rise to a number of imaginative names over the years. Many see the stars forming the shape of an owl, while others see a kite. More recently, some have come to call it the E.T. Cluster.
Although the cluster can be seen with binoculars it doesn’t truly shine until you turn your telescope toward it. You won’t need a lot of magnification either – it can be seen with 26x and 35x provides a nice view, but somewhere between 50x and 90x is probably best. Once you get to about 100x, you’ll have difficulty fitting the entire cluster into the field of view.
The first time you see it, you’re sure to be delighted as your eyes take in the sight and your imagination takes over. With the double star Phi Cassiopeiae marking the eyes, it’s easy to see the cluster as either an owl with powerful wings or an alien with long, outstretched arms staring back at you.
The two stars of Phi Cassiopeiae are both white, with one being about 1 ½ times brighter than the other. It’s a sparsely scattered cluster with the densest portion being around the chest area of the alien.
If the thought of an alien spooks you, look again. No owl? How about a goose or a swan in flight with Phi marking the tail?
2015: An Astronomical Year
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