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Messier Monday: The Beehive Cluster / Praesepe, M44

24 Dec 2012, 21:25 UTC
Messier Monday: The Beehive Cluster / Praesepe, M44
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“This holiday season is about remembering that the greatest gift was not laid under a tree, but in a filthy manger.” -Unknown
But it isn’t the manger you’re thinking of that I want to share with you this Messier Monday. Although Charles Messier’s catalogue of 110 deep sky objects — designed to pinpoint nebulae that could possibly be confused for potential comets — is composed mostly of objects only visible through a telescope, a few of them are visible under good seeing conditions to the naked eye, and have been known since ancient times.
Image credit: Finotto Enrico, 2011 / flickr user henry-67.
High overhead at midnight tonight, Messier 44 — known as the Beehive Cluster today — was known as Praesepe, the manger, to the ancient Greeks and Romans. The bright star cluster at the center is M44 itself and was seen to be the manger, with the two brightest stars external to it, Asellus Borealis and Asellus Australis, as the two mythological donkeys (eating from the manger) that Dionysus and Silenus rode into battle against the Titans.
And this bright star cluster — just five-to-six hundred light-years away — can be viewed anytime after about 9 or 10 ...

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