This weekend in the evening sky don’t miss the moon dropping in for a visit next to a stellar treasure chest.
Saturday, April 9, the waxing crescent moon will be sitting at the feet of the constellation Gemini, the twins of Greek legend.
If you face the western horizon about an hour after your local sunset, you’ll be able to spot a pretty pack of stellar gems just above the moon.
—Picture courtesy Starry Night software
Dubbed M35, this open star cluster is home to several hundred stars. It sits about 2,800 light-years from Earth and spans 24 light-years.
Open clusters are loose groupings of stars that formed from the same cloud of molecular gas and are all roughly the same age. Although gravity holds the cluster together, its bindings are weak, and stars can shake free of the pack as the cluster orbits the galactic center.
In general, open star clusters survive for just a few hundred million years.
For now, though, M35 will be visible in the west with just your eyes from a dark locale anytime this month. Binoculars or a small telescope will really make this stellar swarm pop out from the dark background, even when viewed from light-polluted suburbs.
In our Earthly skies, M35 takes up about the same space as the full moon, and since Luna will be nearby this weekend, it will act as great guidepost for tracking down the deep-sky jewels.
Once you know where to find the cluster, go back on another night when the moon is out of the way—without the lunar glare, you will appreciate M35’s beauty even more.
—Picture courtesy NOAO
Andrew Fazekas, aka The Night Sky Guy, is a science writer, broadcaster, and lecturer who loves to share his passion for the wonders of the universe through all media. He is a regular contributor to National Geographic News and is the national cosmic correspondent for Canada’s Weather Network TV channel, space columnist for CBC Radio network, and a consultant for the Canadian Space Agency. As a member of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada, Andrew has been observing the heavens from Montreal for over a quarter century and has never met a clear night sky he didn’t like.