Cities of stars.
The winter sky is full of wonders for the amateur stargazer like myself. Jupiter shines brightly to the naked eye, and is a jewel to behold through a telescope. Orion and his famous belt are easily recognizable, and contain the Orion nebula (and within that the Trapezium), as well as the stars Belegeuse and Rigel. Following Orion is the brightest star in the sky, Sirius.
My favorite celestial objects, besides planets, are star clusters. Whether they’re open clusters like the Perseus Double Cluster, or globular clusters like the Hercules Globular Cluster, nothing ignites my imagination or my excitement like these cities of stars. Two of my favorites to visit when stargazing this time of year are Messier catalog neighbors; the Beehive Cluster (M44) and the Pleiades (M45).
The Beehive Cluster is a splendid sight, either through a telescope or binoculars. It’s not the most spectacular or awe-inspiring, but it holds a special place in my heart because it’s one of the first deep sky objects I managed to find on my own, and it’s located in my astrological sign, Cancer. I don’t believe in astrology, but I do enjoy the imagery and mythology of it.
I prefer to view the Pleiades through my binoculars. It’s a wondrous sight. When I scan the dark sky in search of it and its brightness blazes into my field of view when I find it? That never fails to take my breath away. The view through my telescope is considerably steadier (binocular mounts are expensive!) but I can only focus on a handful of the cluster’s stars due to the magnification of even my lowest-power eyepiece. Through binoculars I get the full scope of the Seven Sisters’ brilliance, from their blue hue to the ethereal cloud of dust they illuminate, you don’t want to miss viewing this treasure while it’s in the night skies.
The January issue of Sky & Telescope has a great article about open clusters to view this winter. Give it a look, put your eyes to the skies, and try to stay warm while doing it!