Back to: Weekend Sky Report
March 20, 2020
It’s a great time of year for open clusters. There’s a lot to choose from in the evening sky. The Pleiades, the Hyades, Coma, Alpha Persei… but one of the more overlooked star clusters, especially under bright urban skies, is Messier 44, or the Beehive Cluster. Now, it’s dimmer and harder to find than those other clusters, so suburban observers will need to get creative. Here’s how I find it.
The Beehive Cluster is right smack in the middle of Cancer the Crab, which is actually a very dim constellation. To find it, make a big triangle between Regulus, the bright blueish heart of Leo, Procyon, the dimmer star of the winter triangle, and either of the two heads of Gemini—Castor or Pollux. Now if you don’t know where these stars are at all, you might have some trouble. Here’s where to look. Early in the evening, between 7:00 and 8:00, they’ll be to the east with Regulus being almost due east. Procyon will be to the southeast, and the heads of Gemini are high above those two. This large acute triangle with Regulus at the sharpest point will sweep across the southern sky. It’ll be highest in the sky and due south just before 11pm. Once you form that triangle of Regulus, Procyon, and either head of Gemini, Cancer the Crab is right in the center. So scan with your telescope until you see a loose cluster of dozens of stars. That’s M44, the Beehive Cluster.
When you find it, you’ll be looking at one of the first objects ever studied with a telescope… by Galileo himself.