Open clusters, sometimes called galactic clusters, are groups of relatively young (usually less than 500 million years old) stars that formed from the same vast cloud of gas and dust. The Pleiades cluster (M45) in the shoulder of Taurus the Bull is seen easily with the naked eye because it is fairly close at 440 light years (mind you, a light year is 9.5 trillion kilometres). The V-shaped Hyades in the face of Taurus is the closest at 150 light years, although Aldebaran at one end of the V is actually a foreground star at a distance of 65 light years. Many other clusters are greater than ten times farther and require binoculars or a telescope to be seen at all, usually as a hazy patch with some individual stars.
To the left of Taurus is a pentagram of stars marking the head, shoulders and knees of the constellation Auriga the Charioteer. As mentioned last week, one of those stars (in Auriga’s right knee, with him facing us) is officially part of Taurus. Point your binoculars halfway between this star and the one in Auriga’s right shoulder. Open cluster M36 is just inside the line between the stars, and M37 is just outside. They look like fuzzy patches because, at distances of greater than 4000 light years, a telescope is required to resolve individual stars. Further inside is the diffuse open cluster M38, midway between the right shoulder and left knee. All three clusters can be seen together in wide-field binoculars
The brightest star in Auriga is Capella the Goat Star, marking the charioteer’s left shoulder. It is the sixth brightest star in the night sky and the brightest circumpolar star seen from New Brunswick. Capella represents a mother goat, and a triangle of stars nearby on the left side represents three baby goats called The Kids. Quite an armful for someone driving a chariot.
This Week in the Solar System
Saturday’s sunrise in Moncton is at 7:14 am and sunset will occur at 4:51 pm, giving 9 hours, 37 minutes of daylight (7:17 am and 4:58 pm in Saint John). Next Saturday the Sun will rise at 7:24 am and set at 4:44 pm, giving 9 hours, 20 minutes of daylight (7:27 am and 4:51 pm in Saint John).
The Moon is new on Saturday, November 18; and see if you can spot the slim crescent near Venus on the morning before. Mercury passes a few degrees above Antares on Monday, setting 50 minutes after the Sun midweek. Although the prime observing time for Saturn is over, decent views may still be obtained when it appears in twilight. Mars shows its reddish colour high in the morning sky, while Venus and Jupiter are less than a Moon-width apart on Monday. Watch for meteors emanating from Taurus this weekend, as the minor North Taurid meteor showers peaks, and from Leo late in the week. Neither shower is likely to produce more than a few shooting stars per hour.
The William Brydone Jack Astronomy Club meets at the UNB Forestry-Earth Sciences Building in Fredericton on November 14 at 7 pm. All are welcome.
Questions? Contact Curt Nason at email@example.com.