Moon Pairs with Cluster and Mars

Written by The Night Sky Guy on August 20, 2011 – 1:01 pm -

Find star cluster easily thanks to the Moon this Wednesday before dawn

Find star cluster easily thanks to the Moon this Wednesday before dawn

Early bird skywatchers this coming week get a chance to see the crescent Moon join a beautiful bright open cluster and then the Red Planet in two back to back mornings.

First up on August 24th look towards the eastern horizon for the moon about 5 am local time. It is sitting in the constellation Gemini, the twins for the next couple of days.  If you have binoculars or a small telescope check out that faint fuzzy patch to the Moon’s left – that’s M35, and open star cluster.

M35 up close Image Copyright © Bob Christmas

This cluster which sits at 2,800 light years away was first observed by Charles Messier in August 1764 while he was searching for comets.

The cluster is quite large, spanning about 20 light years across with at least a good couple hundred member stars. Brightest member stars shine at 8 and 9 magnitude and first impressions when you view it up close is that the stars form a rectangular formation with a tighter, more packed core.

When the Moon is not in the area – later on the week try your hand at glimpsing M35 with the unaided eye. You may need to be away from the light polluted city in cottage country to really see this faint fuzzy patch that appears about as wide as a full Moon disk. With binoculars M35 is quite east to spot, even from the city.

Then the following morning of August 25 you will notice that the Moon has slide down to the lower left in the sky. Look closely to its left you will notice a faint orange-red star – that is planet Mars. Also you will see the two brightest stars in Gemini that mark the heads of the twins 51 light year Castor (top) and 37 light year Pollux (bottom).

The 4th planet in the solar system is looking real puny in the sky these days and that’s because it’s about as far away from our planet as it can get in its track around the Sun – at about 300 million km from Earth. It’s so far away that it takes light about 8 minutes to travel one way between our two worlds. So that means that when the Mars rover Opportunity and its orbiter cousins whirling around the planet send us those amazing images – it takes that long for us to receive them here on the ground stations. Despite its faintness in the sky you can still make out the orange hue imparted on the  planet by sunlight reflecting off the iron-oxide rich sand dunes and dust that cover much of the planet’s surface.

aug25-2011

Moon sits beside planet Mars about an hour before sunrise in the east this Thursday.


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Mars Meets Star Cluster

Written by The Night Sky Guy on August 5, 2011 – 5:06 pm -

Sky chart showing where to find Mars in the sky credit: Starry Night Software

Sky chart showing where to find Mars in the sky credit: Starry Night Software

Over the next few days the Red Planet will appear in the sky to glide past a beautiful pack of stellar gems known as M35. Mars will be fairly easy to spot with the naked eye – looking like a faint orange star,  but the star cluster may need the magnification of binoculars to really see them well.

Both planet and star cluster are in the constellation Gemini-located at the twin’s feet. While the cluster is visible to the naked-eye from a dark sky, a pair of binoculars will really bring out the details in the 2,800 light year distant cluster nicely, especially from a light polluted suburban backyard.

This open star cluster consists of several hundred stars and measures about 24 light years across. In our Earthly skies it takes up about the same chunk of sky as the full Moon does. M35 is one of the eternal favourite targets of beginner stargazers looking for deep sky treasures.

telescope view of Mars only 1/2 degree from star cluster; Lcick image to enlarge

telescope view of Mars only 1/2 degree from star cluster; Click image to enlarge

Your best bet is to look towards the low eastern sky about an hour before local sunrise while skies are still dark.

On the morning of Sunday, Aug.7th Mars will only appear to be 0.5 degrees from the cluster – that’s about the width of one full Moon – the closest they will get to each other. don’t worry if you get clouded out – you can see the Mars-cluster pair for a few mornings after this weekend.


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Latest Night Sky Episode

Written by The Night Sky Guy on February 12, 2011 – 12:54 pm -

This week’s episode highlights the awesome new NASA satellite images of our Sun and gives stargazers a heads up on two lunar sky shows involving star clusters.


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Moon with Cluster Tonight

Written by The Night Sky Guy on April 19, 2010 – 6:14 pm -

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Moon and star cluster tonight; click image to enlarge

Check out the Moon late tonight paired up with the bright cluster M35. Both will be in the constellation Gemini-located at the twin’s feet. While the cluster is visible to the naked-eye from a dark sky, a pair of binoculars will really bring out the details in the 2,800 light year distant cluster nicely, especially from a light polluted suburban backyard. This open star cluster consists of several hundred stars and measures about 24 light years across. In our Earthly skies it takes up about the same chunk of sky as the full Moon does. M35 is one of the eternal favourite targets of beginner stargazers looking for deep sky treasures.

Best time to look for the cluster would be after local 9  pm, before which the sky will be to bright to make out details . Remember that low magnification is all you need when using a telescope to get the whole cluster in  your field of view.


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Moon Points to Pack of Gems

Written by The Night Sky Guy on December 3, 2009 – 10:39 am -

The Moon pairs with M35 star cluster in the night sky; Click image to enlarge

The Moon pairs with M35 star cluster in the night sky; Click image to enlarge

Tonight is a great opportunity to track down a beauty of an open cluster of stars, thanks to the Moon. Step outside around suppertime and find the near full Moon. Look to its upper right with a pair of binoculars and you will see hundreds of shimmering stars huddled together in a compact group located more than 2800 light years away.

Check out the colour of the stars and you will notice they are blue and white in colour which indicates to astronomers that these stars are fairly young – about 150 million years old. Compare that to our middle age sun which about 5 billion years old.

Meanwhile if you have a small telescope then you can try your hand at tracking down a nearby companion cluster to M35 that is a much more distant and ancient quarry – the open cluster NGC2158.  Shining with a striking golden hue its member stars are crowded together more than its brighter, next door neighbour and are thought to be more than 1 billion years old and lying a whopping 16,000 light years from Earth. You will find it about 15 arc minutes (or half a full Moon disk away) to the lower right of M35.

Both clusters are in the constellation Gemini- the twins. How appropriate – a double-bill cosmic show!


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Moon and Cluster Spectacle

Written by The Night Sky Guy on October 9, 2009 – 11:50 pm -

click to enlarge

click to enlarge

Late Friday, after 11 pm, rising in the eastern sky will be the waning gibbous Moon. You can use it as a guidepost tonight only to find a beautiful deep-sky gem. It wll park itself to the upper left of a star cluster – separated by 1.2 degrees – about two full moon disks apart.

 

Popular with backyard astronomers, M35 is a striking open star cluster fist catalogued back in 1746 by a French astronomer. It’s home is in the constellation Gemini, at the foot stars of the Gemini twins.

 

click to enlarge

click to enlarge

You can see it with the naked eye under a dar sky – tonight with the Moon’s glare in the way – you will need binoculars to see it clearly. But now that you know where it is in the sky, try to find it again tomorrow night and after, when the Moon has moved farther away. Binoculars will resolve the brighter members of this cluster and a small telescope under low magnification will really show it off at its best. M35 is a loose association of about 200 young stars still huddled together, from the time they were born a couple hundred million years ago. Eventually over many thousands of yars they will wander off in different directions, dissolving the cluster formation. But for now we get to enjoy this cosmic wonder that sits 2,800 light years away from Earth.

Early Sunday morning the Moon will have moved closer to the planet Mars, parking itself to the upper right of the Red Planet, and by Monday morning it will be just under it and much closer- about 6 full moon disks apart.

Editor’s Note: This post originally mistakenly referred to Saturday night for the Moon/M35 pairing, which should instead have been for Friday night. We apologize for the cosmic mix-up


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Venus Pitstop at Cluster

Written by The Night Sky Guy on August 3, 2009 – 9:51 am -

click to enlarge

click to enlarge

Sometimes as the planets move through our skies they swing by some pretty objects that are much further out in deep space. Amateur astronomers call them deep sky objects. Basically that is anything beyond our solar system. The planet Venus will be gliding by a beautiful open star cluster called M35 tomorrow morning. The pair will only be separated by 5 full Moon disks making for a pretty sight through binoculars. A small telescope will reveal M35 as a nice tight, round group of dozens of stars packed into a space the size of a full Moon in the sky. The cluster is even visible to the naked-eye under dark sky conditions. Astronomers believe that M35is about 2,800 light years away and actually consists of over 500 member stars that are all much younger than our Sun. To see this odd celestial pair, look towards the predawn eastern skies tomorrow (Tuesday) morning- after that, Venus will slowly be sinking lower to the horizon as the days pass. If getting up early is not your cup of tea, then you will have to wait until late winter/early spring to can catch M35 at more civilized evening stargazing time.


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