New Night Sky Episode

Written by The Night Sky Guy on October 2, 2011 – 5:19 pm -

For those of you that missed it airing on The Weather Network TV channel this Friday night then here is the latest episode of my Night Sky segment. If you are an early bird and wake up before your local dawn then don”t miss watching the planet Mars near the beautiful star cluster called M44 or the Beehive. The Red planet and the 600 light year distant cluster will be together in the sky for the whole first week of October. They make for an awesome sight through binos or scope.

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Mars Buzzes Beehive

Written by The Night Sky Guy on April 20, 2010 – 5:14 pm -

Mars and  Beehive cluster in Cancer tonight; click image to enlarge

Mars and Beehive cluster in Cancer tonight; click image to enlarge

Over the next week or so check out the planet Mars as it positinos itself next to the beautiful Beehive cluster (M44). The pair will easily fit inside the view of an average pair of binoculars. Both call the constellation Cancer – the crab – their home and are easy to track down in the southwest these nights. While Mars looks like a bright orange coloured star to the naked eye -thanks to the planets  iron oxide rich deserts – surface details can only be seen under high magnification in medium sized telescopes. The Beehive cluster however can be glimpsed easily from a dark sky location without optical aid, but really looks like a swarm of bees when you magnify the 500 light year distant cluster even a little. The cosmic odd couple are now only separated by about 1.5 degrees – equal to 3 full Moon disks. By Wednesday and Thursday nights the Moon will join in on the fun and pass just underneath them;  making for a pretty show.

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Creepy Mars Spectacle

Written by The Night Sky Guy on October 30, 2009 – 4:33 pm -


Click image to enlarge

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.  

Clcik image to enlarge

Click image to enlarge

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.

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Venus Buzzes Beehive

Written by The Night Sky Guy on September 1, 2009 – 4:45 pm -

Wednesday dawn, eastern horizon

Wednesday dawn, eastern horizon

Early bird skywatchers can use binoculars to see Venus make a close approach to the beautiful Beehive star cluster, also known as M44. The cosmic pair will only be separated by 1.5 degrees – equal to only 3 full moon disks apart. Face the eastern horizon at dawn – about 30 minutes before local sunrise. Look for a super-bright white star about a quarter the way up the sky. That is Venus, the second planet from the Sun.  it appears so bright because it is entirely covered with highly reflective white clouds and is located about 80 million km away from Earth.

Meanwhile, using binoculars centred on Venus, you will notice just to its upper left a fuzzy patch of stars huddled together. The Beehive cluster is located in the zodiacal constellation Cancer and is one that astronomers of old were quite familiar with. Ptolemy in the first century AD made note of it, and Galileo 400 years ago this year studied it for the first time through a telescope. Since then it has become a favourite target for backyars stargazers everywhere. Best views are had in late winter/early spring when it is conveniently placed in the evening sky.

The cluster spans about 22 light years across and binoculars will show off about 40 of the brightest members which lie about 600 light years away from us. According to a 2007 census of the cluster, there are 1010 confirmed member stars, of which 30% are probably similar to our own Sun. I wonder if any of them have planets revolving around them?

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