Back to: Weekend Sky Report
December 13, 2019
The constellation Auriga is home to the bright star Capella, also known as the Harvest Star, which can be seen even under urban skies. But you’ll need to be away from the city to view this weekend’s targets.
Auriga is home to three Messier objects, named after 18th century French astronomer Charles Messier, famous for his catalog of deep-sky objects. The three objects are all open clusters, which can be seen through most backyard telescopes.
To find them, find Auriga. It’s a large constellation that’ll be in the northeastern sky in the evening. Again, the best way to find it is to find its brightest star, Capella. The rest of the constellation forms a hexagon below and to the right of Capella.
The three open star clusters within it are M36, M37, and M38. Let’s work from the inside out. The cluster furthest within Auriga is M38. It’s also known as the Starfish cluster. To find it, find the two stars opposite Capella. Elnath, and Theta Aurigae. Make a near right triangle inside the constellation, and find the inside angle. Scan down slowly until you see a faint cluster of stars. That’s M38. Scan further and you’ll see M36, which looks similar, but less compact and a little brighter. Scan outside the constellation between the same two stars and you’ll find M37, which is the brightest of the three, and considered one of the finest star clusters visible in the night sky.