Winter is Binocular Time

It’s winter, and that means lots of binocular ready sights up in the night sky!

Most families have binoculars of one type or another, for hunting, sporting events, even the ballet. Dig’em out of the closet, clean them if needed, and wait for a nice clear night. You will be rewarded.  Here is a short list of some of the best treats for binocular viewing.

We will start in the northwest and work our way to the southeast.

Let’s start with NGC 869 and 884. Commonly called the Double Cluster, located between Cassiopeia and Perseus, they form an elongated, coarse collection of stars.  Kind of looks like a nighttime satellite view of Dallas-Fort Worth, but in the sky.

Moving southeast a bit, we run into a jumble of open star clusters among several constellations. Starting in Auriga, the charioteer, it looks like a lopsided pentagon with bright star Capella at its northern shoulder.  M36, 37, and 38, are all visible in one binocular field! These open clusters line up in Auriga and look like three coarse smudges.  Keep going southeast and you run into open cluster M35 at Gemini’s left foot. Try to see the little arrowhead shaped cluster NGC 2158 just below and to the right of M35.

Now, change direction and looking west from M35 you will see the gem of gems, the Pleiades cluster, M45. To the naked eye it looks like a little, little dipper.  In binoculars is it spectacular!  Now back to a southeasterly direction and catch the Hyades cluster in Taurus. It is easily seen with naked eyes as a V-shaped collection of stars with the bright orange star Aldebaran ending the lower V leg. Aldebaran, while not part of the Hyades cluster, stands out in front. The Hyades cluster forms Taurus’s face and snout.

From Taurus it’s an easy south-southeast venture into Orion, the hunter. Its large trapezoidal shape and bright stars make Orion an easy constellation to find, especially with his straight belt of three bright stars. From the middle star of his belt move down until you see bright nebulosity surrounding a “star”. This is the great Orion Nebula M42, with smaller M43. They are molecular hydrogen clouds pumping out baby stars. The “star” near M42’s center is really a small cluster of newly born stars (well, only millions of years old) called the trapezoid.

We end this brief tour at Canis Major, the big dog.  Just southeast of Orion, it is anchored by the brightest star in our sky, Sirius. A little south-southeast of Sirius lies M41, a nice open cluster.

Join us tonight (January 29, 6:30pm) for Astronomy Night at Tye Preston Memorial Library in Canyon Lake. No charge.

What’s in the Sky?

January 30; before dawn; southeast: Mercury and a thin waning crescent Moon share the horizon, with Venus and Mars above.

February 2; after sunset; southwest: Jupiter and a waxing crescent Moon above the horizon.