With spring approaching, deep sky observers can look forward in anticipation (or dread) to the tangles of galaxies
in Virgo, Coma Berenices, and Ursa Major.
However, in Gemini, we will be taking a look at a region of the Milky Way rich in open clusters and planetary nebulae.
Gemini lies right along the Milky Way, and the ecliptic (the region in which the Sun and
planets are constrained) passes through it. Cancer lies further away from the Milky Way,
and in it can be seen many faint galaxies as well as bright open clusters, and
many double and multiple stars.
Cancer is a small but important zodiacal
constellation. It was the fourth constellation of the ancient zodiac, east of
Aries, Taurus and Gemini, but is now fifth, since the first point of Aries, the
point of the astrological Spring Equinox, has moved west into Pisces.
M-44 - The Beehive Cluster. This bright open cluster
(NGC 2632) is easily seen with the naked eye from a
dark sky site. It is large, over a degree in diameter, and is best seen in binoculars or viewfinder. It is a somewhat
loose cluster of about 50-100 stars, with several star chains and pairs seen.
M44, often dubbed the Beehive Cluster, is also commonly known as Praesepe, or
Crib, because it is sometimes associated with the Manger of Christian teachings.
It is one of the largest, nearest, and brightest of the galactic star clusters.
Praesepe, easily visible to the naked eye in a dark sky, was one of the
few clusters mentioned in ancient times, although its true nature as a group of
stars was not known until the invention of the telescope. According to legend,
Praesepe was used in ancient times as a weather indicator. The invisibility of
this cluster in an otherwise clear sky was considered to forecast the approach
of a violent storm.
M-67 - This large open cluster
(NGC 2682) is one of the oldest clusters known, with an age of about 10 billion years.
It is about one-half degree in diameter, and is composed of well over 100 stars, although many of them are moderately
faint. It is well detached from the background, and is moderately concentrated to the center.
Observer Tom Fallon made the following report: When I originally
started to look for M67, I was unable to see this 7th magnitude item. So I reached over and
grabbed the bino's for further investigation. I knew M67 was in Cancer, so location was not a problem.
Then, Pow! this faint cluster popped out at me. I was completely unable to see this
cluster with the naked eye, but magnified with the bino's, it was a tight cluster of
over two dozen
stars. Visually two dozen stars does not seem like much when looking into the sky during winter, but
they were so close together. I look forward to returning to this item with more aperture. 02/28/2001.
NGC 2775 - The first of many galaxies to come later in the Spring. This object is about 4'x2', oriented
NNW-SSE, has a very bright core, with fainter extensions to the listed dimensions. The center appeared to me to
be somewhat granular.
Iota Cancri - A fine, easily split double star, showing a yellow-orange and blue pair.