25 April 2011

Viewing Gemini and a Deep Space Gem, M35

Spring skies are dominated by an array of bright stars and distinctive constellations. In April and May, the zodiac constellation Gemini dominates the view to the west, gracing the sky with the twin stars Castor and Pollux, and guiding the curious observer toward a gem in the river of the Milky Way, which flows across the legs of the twin brothers.

The star pattern of Gemini is of the brothers Castor and Pollux standing side by side. The bright twin stars represent the heads of the twins, and the stars that are below Castor and Pollux trace out their bodies, arms, legs and even a foot. An advantage to viewing Gemini in the Spring is that the brothers are standing upright and are easy to see, whereas in other times of the year when Gemini is visible, the brothers are not in an easy-to-spot orientation, or are directly overhead, a difficult thing to see.

If you have binoculars, you can try to spot a very faint but beautiful star cluster called M35 near the foot of Castor, the twin on the right-hand side of the pair. You will need a star chart (click on the image above, or try this fine star chart) to locate this small circle of stars but if you have patience and a dark viewing location, you will know you have found it because M35 seems to glow in the view of your binoculars compared to the stars around it. The stars in M35 are quite distant, nearly 3000 light-years away (but still within the Milky Way galaxy).

Happy viewing, and good luck with M35!

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