There were several clear nights at the end of February this year. I was not able to take a trip to dark locations, unfortunately, so I have just set up my travel imaging scope in the backyard and tried to capture some photons. Since the field of view now increased (it is APS-C sensor format at 430mm focal length) I have many new targets in the list, that were not accessible before. And the well-known Messier 44 Beehive cluster in Cancer landed at the sensor quite fast.

M44 is one of the nearest open clusters to Earth (610 light-years away). It looks like a small nebulous object to the naked eye and has been known since ancient times. The apparent size of the cluster is 1.5 degrees, so it is a perfect target for binocular viewing, but also for low-power telescope observations. The first one who was able to resolve M44 to stars was Galileo in 1609.

M44 open cluster
M44 open cluster

But there is something more here. There is not much interstellar matter In the area where M44 is located, so we are able to look and see “through” the Praesepe cluster and watch the targets behind. And there are several distant galaxies that can be revealed even in relatively short exposed images. Some of them are located about 500 million light-years away. If you could take and hold the M44 cluster in your outstretched hand, then these galaxies would be 1000km away, or more. And yet they are lurking between Beehive stars in the captured image 🙂

M44 open cluster annotated
M44 open cluster annotated

Large image

Large annotated image

The bright central core of M44 has a diameter of about 20 light-years. The age of the cluster is estimated to be 600 million years and scientists believe, that Beehive and Hyades clusters have the same origin.

Greek and Roman observers saw the cluster as a manger from which two donkeys are eating. The donkeys, represented by the nearby stars Asellus Borealis and Asellus Australis (gamma and delta Cnc), were the mythical animals on which the god Dionysus rode into battle against Titans. Greek philosopher Aratus described Praesepe (the Manger) in his poem Heavenly Phenomena in 260 B.C.:

Watch, too, the Manger. Like a faint mist in the North it plays the guide beneath Cancer. Around it are borne two faintly gleaming stars, not far apart nor very near but distant to the view a cubit’s length, one on the North, while the other looks towards the South. They are called the Asses, and between them is the Manger. On a sudden, when all the sky is clear, the Manger wholly disappears, while the stars that go on either side seem nearer drawn to one another: not slight then is the storm with which the fields are deluged. If the Manger darken and both stars remain unaltered, they herald rain. But if the Ass to the North of the Manger shine feebly through a faint mist, while the Southern Ass is gleaming bright, expect wind from the South: but if in turn the Southern Ass is cloudy and the Northern bright, watch for the North wind.

Clear skies!

Image technical data:

Date: 26 February 2022
Location: Nieborowice, Poland
Telescope: Tecnosky 90/540 Owl triplet
Corrector: TS FF/FR 0.8x
Camera: QHY247C
Mount: iOptron CEM26
Guiding: ASI290MM + Sonnar 135
Exposure: 120x1 minute
Conditions: Bortle 6, transparency good, seeing medium