30 September 2011

Mars passes through a star cluster, the Beehive

Our fellow planets in the Solar System are on the go, always wandering from place to place in the sky. The rocky planets (Mercury, Venus, Mars) move quickly, due to their closer proximity to the Sun, and their motion from day to day can be noticeable to the naked eye. The gas giant planets (Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, Neptune) move more gradually but are nonetheless regularly moving against the backdrop of stars.

Mars, being our 2nd-closest Solar System neighbor, can appear to move quite considerably against the backdrop of stars from one night to the next. This week, it will pass through the constellation Cancer and in doing so, travel through one of the most well-known star clusters in the heavens, the Beehive Cluster. This will be a fine site even in city skies, but you will need binoculars to truly appreciate the view. Use the diagram to find this spectacle in the early morning sky, looking due east (just as I can see when I walk out my front door in the morning). Enjoy!

Image courtesy of Sky & Telescope Magazine.

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