Stay up late over the course of the next few nights and you can catch sight of red star-like Mars crossing through a bright star cluster in the constellation of Cancer. Rising well above the eastern horizon after midnight on Halloween, the Red planet will appear to slowly begin to move into the Beehive cluster. Sunday night-Monday morning the planet will actually appear to be the closest to the cluster and be positioned at the top edge of the group (see image below). Of course their proximity is just an optical illusion because while Mars is only 170 million km away from us, the cluster is over 600 light years away. There is also a huge size difference too. Mars is 6,800 km wide, and the star cluster is nearly 23 light years across. The pair is best seen through binoculars or a small telescope using low power.
Interesting to ponder when you look at this cosmic couple, that ancient Romans thought that the Beehive cluster looked like a manger and could only make it out as a hazy patch of light with the unaided eye. Then centuries later, Galileo first saw the Beehive through a telescope (actually 400 years ago this year) in 1609, and counted 40 stars belonging to this group. Did you know that the binoculars you may have at home is about as powerful as Galileo’s scope.
How many can you see?
Space News extra: Take a gander at another deep sky beauty online, snapped by both ground and space based observatories. It’s a breathtakingly beautiful hi-rez image of the open star cluster known as the Jewel Box. It sits over 6000 light years away and is a favourite target for backyard astronomers in the southern hemisphere. Check out all the details here.
Tags: Beehive, M44, Mars
Posted in Planets, Solar System, stars | 189 Comments »