Photo: the Clark Dome | Raymond Dake Photography
By Kevin Schindler
In the opening scene of the 1963 epic comedy film, It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World, Jimmy Durante’s character, Smiler Grogan, shares the secret of a fortune buried under a “Big W” before (literally) kicking the bucket. Following a madcap pursuit across California, everyday people turned treasure hunters find that the Big W is a quartet of leaning palm trees growing in a w-shaped pattern. The scene was shot in Rancho Palos Verdes, where the real-life trees have long since died. But, like the mythological hunter Orion, who after his death was elevated to the heavens and survives in the form of a constellation, a Big W of stars punctuates the night sky as part of a constellation that boasts a variety of astronomical treasures. Among these stars, nebulae, and remnants of cataclysmic explosions is the Owl Cluster, a distinct collection of stars popular among sky watchers for its elegance and stark beauty.
The Owl Cluster | Leonardo Orazi
The Owl Cluster is officially recognized in astronomical circles by its catalog number, NGC 457. This means it’s the 457th entry in the New General Catalog, a register of ...