09 April 2010

Mars and the Beehive

Over the past few weeks I have been watching the gradual change in position of Mars as it moves from retrograde to prograde motion across the sky, now moving steadily eastward across the constellation Cancer and next to a beautiful cluster of stars knows as the Beehive Cluster, or M44.

Mars, like all other planets, moves eastward from our point of view most of the time but when Earth have just the right alignment (as we did with Mars over the last few months) a planet may appear to travel westward, and we call this motion "retrograde." Click on the image to see how Mars was in retrograde from December through March.

Now that Mars is moving eastward again, it is traversing a part of the constellation Cancer where you can find the Beehive Cluster, an open cluster of stars (like the nearby Hyades cluster in Taurus). It is relatively close to the Solar System compared to most clusters, and it is a gem in binoculars. With Mars as your guide "star" you can easily navigate to the Beehive Cluster high overhead this time of year. It's worth a few minutes to see if you can spot it.

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