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March 8th, 2016
With the Moon almost new, now’s a good time to go deep sky observing. One favorite, visible from late winter and throughout the spring is Messier 44 (M44) in the constellation of Cancer the Crab. As with almost all deep sky objects, you’ll need to wait until a few hours after sunset for the skies to be truly dark and, ideally, away from the lights of your town or city.
Known since antiquity, the traditional name for the cluster is the Praesepe, which means “the manger.” Another popular name is the Beehive Cluster. Personally, it always gives me the impression of a swarm of bees, but I also like the traditional name.
Whatever name you choose, you’ll find spotting the cluster to be a good test of your environment. In theory, you should be able to see it with just your eyes but finding it can be a little problematic as it’s actually brighter than any of the stars that form the constellation of Cancer itself.
Look midway between the mid-section of Gemini and Regulus, the brightest star in Leo, the lion. With luck, you should be able to see a tiny, misty patch. I’ve seen it from the suburbs but in the city I’ve always needed a pair of binoculars to help me.
It’s a large cluster and, consequently, one that’s best suited to lower magnifications. Even at 35x it’ll barely fit within the field of view. But it’s a very nice view, all the same with dozens of stars glinting against the night. The majority of stars appear blue-white, indicating a young age. Several others are older orange giants.
There are a lot of doubles to be found here, but look toward the center: can you see a mini Cepheus? It always leaps right out at me!
Slightly adapted from my new book, Easy Things to See With a Small Telescope: A Beginner’s Guide to Over 60 Easy-to-Find Night Sky Sights. Paperback edition available now from Amazon in the United States, Canada and the United Kingdom. (Kindle version coming soon!)
All Astronomical Events for March 8th, 2016
03:29 UT – The almost new Moon is north of Mercury. (Mercury: 92% illuminated, magnitude -0.6, diameter 5.0”. Aquarius, not visible.)
09:55 UT – Jupiter reaches its maximum brightness. (Magnitude -2.5, diameter 44.4”, Leo, visible all night.)
13:01 UT – The almost new Moon is north of Neptune. (Neptune: magnitude 8.0, diameter 2.2”. Aquarius, not visible.)
18:18 UT – Jupiter is at perigee. Distance to Earth: 4.435 AU. (Magnitude -2.5, diameter 44.4”, Leo, visible all night.)
23:20 UT – First location to see a partial solar eclipse begin.
The planetary nebula M97, the Owl Nebula, culminates at midnight tonight. (Magnitude 9.9. Ursa Major, all night.)
Events in bold involve objects and/or events that are visible with the naked eye.
Easy Things to See With a Small Telescope
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