“Gateway to the Stars” Jan 5 – Star Clusters Galore!

Mike Murray

It may be the darkest and coldest time of the year but it’s also the time to delight in some of the most beautiful stars of the entire sky. Many of the brightest and most colorful stars appear in the winter skies, but some of the finest examples of “star clusters” abound as well. And many of them can look spectacular through binoculars, which is especially nice if you don’t want to spend much time in the cold air setting up a telescope!

The famous "Double Cluster in Perseus" is a fine sight in binoculars

Many of the clusters we’ll be looking at are called “open clusters” because they appear as loose collections of stars numbering from the dozens to the thousands.  But there are other clusters to be seen as well, such as “globular clusters” which can number in the hundreds of thousands. The Pleiades Star Cluster (sometimes referred to as “The Seven Sisters”) is a prime target because it’s getting higher in the sky, but the “Double Cluster” in Perseus is high above the horizon as well which makes them look crisp and clear.

Using Orion as a pointer - a way to "star hop"

Some of these clusters, like the Pleiades, can be seen with the naked eye. Most require binoculars or even a telescope which means you’ll need to “star hop” to know where to look. The best constellation of the season for star hopping is Orion the Hunter because it’s easy to identify and use it’s shape as a “pointer” – a guidepost to finding star clusters and other Deep Sky Objects.

Even with all these tools and tricks, don’t forget the first rule of star gazing – be comfortable! Dress up in layers and check your star charts before going outside, and use a red filtered flashlight if you need to check your charts outside (preserves your night vision).

Join us this Saturday at 6:45pm in the Hansen Dome Theatre and enjoy the wonders of the clusters!

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