M44 is without doubt one of the heavens’ largest, brightest, and nearest open star clusters — a marvel accessible to stargazers of all ability ranges. This enticing swarm of stars is seen to the unaided eye as a nebulous patch unfold throughout 1° of sky, showing just like the elongated head of a comet passing by means of the guts of Most cancers the Crab. Identified all through antiquity, Third-magnitude M44 outshines all the celebrities of Most cancers by a full magnitude, making Most cancers the one constellation wherein a deep-sky object is extra conspicuous than the constellation itself.
Ptolemy wrote that this mystifying mist was the “heart of the cloud-shaped convolutions within the breast [of the Crab], referred to as Praesepe.” One of many earliest monikers for the cluster, Praesepe is derived from the Latin phrase presepio, which suggests “manger,” referring to the straw-filled manger of the toddler Christ. If M44 represents the straw, it’s guarded by the 2 aselli (Latin for “donkeys”) — the Fifth-magnitude Gamma (γ) and 4th-magnitude Delta (δ) Cancri.
Galileo first resolved M44 right into a mass of 40 stars along with his primitive telescope — a view just like that by means of in the present day’s handheld binoculars. However the grouping’s extra well-liked identify, the Beehive Cluster, involves us from the English observer John Herschel, who, in his 1833 Treatise on Astronomy, tells us that the Praesepe resolves right into a swarm of stars with an “odd evening glass.” Thus, correctly talking, the Praesepe refers back to the naked-eye view, whereas the Beehive refers back to the telescopic view — which, by means of even the smallest of telescopes, reveals a swarm of nervous starlight.
M44, which is situated some 515 light-years away, is a set of at the least 1,000 stars. Most are too dim to see; about 200 vary in brightness from sixth to 14th magnitude, 80 of that are brighter than magnitude 10. Eager-eyed observers have resolved a number of of the brightest stars with their unaided eyes. The 600-million-year-old cluster stretches throughout 15 light-years of house.
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