Sky at a Glance February 23 – March 2

Photo showing locations of the beautiful open clusters M44 (The Beehive) in Cancer and Melotte 111 (Coma Star Cluster) in Coma Berenices.

This Week’s Sky at a Glance, 2019 February 23 – March 2 ~by Curt Nason

Winter is open cluster season for stargazers; star clusters that have formed from the same vast cloud of gas and dust and that usually hang around together for half a billion years. They are also called galactic clusters because these vast clouds typically appear in the spiral arms of our galaxy, and in winter we are looking toward a spiral arm opposite the centre of our Milky Way galaxy. Two of these, the Pleaides (M45) and the Hyades, form the shoulder and face of Taurus the Bull and they are bright enough to be seen within urban areas. Other clusters are visible to the naked eye but require a clear sky with minimal light pollution.

One of those objects is the Beehive star cluster (M44) in the constellation Cancer the Crab, which lies between Gemini and Leo. The Beehive is a large glowing patch of haze and its many stars fill the view in a telescope, but large clusters like this are appreciated best with binoculars. In times long past the cluster was used as a storm predictor. It would be one of the first objects to disappear when the light clouds that often precede a weather system would move in.

The Coma Star Cluster, or Melotte 111, lies in the constellation Coma Berenices, between the tail of Leo and Canes Venatici the Hunting Dogs. It is a large, somewhat sparse cluster that spills beyond the view of most binoculars, and centuries ago it was regarded as the tuft of Leo’s tail. The other one, or two, is the Double Cluster between Perseus and Cassiopeia. This pair fits within the view of a low power telescope eyepiece, but binoculars give a better perspective. Following a nearby string of stars with binos will bring you to the Stock 2 star cluster, less spectacular but delightful to observe.

This Week in the Solar System

Saturday’s sunrise in Moncton is at 7:09 am and sunset will occur at 5:56 pm, giving 10 hours, 47 minutes of daylight (7:11 am and 6:04 pm in Saint John). Next Saturday the Sun will rise at 6:56 am and set at 6:06 pm, giving 11 hours, 10 minutes of daylight (7:01 am and 6:12 pm in Saint John).

The Moon is at third quarter on Tuesday and it is near Jupiter the following day. Venus pulls away from Saturn in the morning sky, while Jupiter rules over the wee hours until Venus gets out of bed. Mercury is at greatest elongation east of the Sun on Tuesday, sitting high to the left of the sunset point and an easy naked-eye target. Look for a subtle cone of light stretching from the horizon toward Mars, about 45-90 minutes after sunset. Caused by sunlight reflecting off dust within the ecliptic, seeing the zodiacal light requires a clear sky untainted by light pollution.

The provincial astronomy club, RASC NB, meets on February 23 at 1 pm in UNB Fredericton Forestry – Earth Sciences building. The Saint John Astronomy Club meets in the Rockwood Park Interpretation Centre on March 2 at 7 pm. Also, RASC NB members will be holding a public observing event at the Kouchibouguac Park Visitor Centre on March 2 from 7:30 to 9:30 pm. All are welcome.

Questions? Contact Curt Nason.

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