Cosmic Bees Buzz Spring Skywatchers

Look high in the south around 9:30-10 p.m. to find the Beehive – created with Stellarium

Tonight’s forecast is for clear weather so why not step outside and see if you can spot the famous Beehive Cluster in the constellation of Cancer the Crab. I’ve always enjoyed this spooky looking little cloud. To find it, look high in the south at nightfall. Use Saturn and Mars (see map above) to point you to the cluster, located about mid-way between the two. It sits squarely in the "empty region" between Gemini and Leo.

If you live where the sky is dark, you should see a hazy puff about the size of the moon. To make it easier to see, practice the technique known as averted vision. Look to the side and around the spot instead of staring directly at it. City observers will need low power binoculars to pull the cluster out of the skyglow.

Time exposure photo of the Beehive star cluster – Bob King / News Tribune

The Beehive is a cluster of several hundred suns 577 light years away. It’s similar to the Pleiades (Seven Sisters) cluster except further and fainter. Your eyes sees an unresolved glowing patch but binoculars will reveal dozens of stars, some in pretty chains.

Galileo was the first to resolve the Beehive in his small telescope and he counted 40 stars. It’s other name is Praesepe (Pree-SEE-pee), which means manger in Latin. The ancient Greeks and Romans saw this misty glow as a manger with two donkeys eating from it, represented by two nearby stars.

Whether you see a manger or a buzzing hive of bee-stars, this pretty binocular cluster is worth a look on the next clear night.