Weekend Stargazer: March 24 – 26

Use this chart to locate the objects described below.
Use this chart to locate the objects described below.

The Moon is absent from the evening sky the weekend, which makes this an ideal opportunity for some deep-sky viewing. The end of March is an interesting time. The constellations of winter are still up as the last traces of twilight fade, and the galaxy-rich areas in Leo and Virgo are approaching the meridian. But sandwiched in between these regions is a small, dim constellation that doesn’t get a lot of attention: Cancer, the crab.

Take some time to enjoy the splendours offered by this modest grouping. Start with the lovely open cluster M44, also known as the Beehive Cluster. M44 is a fine binocular object that’s easy to locate; the one-degree-wide clump of stars is parked midway and a little west of a line joining Delta (δ) and Gamma (γ) Cancri. At magnitude 3.9, Delta is Cancer’s brightest star. Another delightful open cluster is M67. Under a dark sky the little stellar gathering is visible in binoculars as a fuzzy patch, but M67 shows best in a telescope at moderate magnification.

The celestial crab is also home to a number of fine double stars, including Iota (ι) Cancri. Iota is a striking sight in small telescopes: it features a 4.1-magnitude yellow star contrasting with a 6.0-magnitude blue companion, separated by a generous 31 arc seconds. The two are easily split in any scope used at low power.

Two bright open clusters and a showpiece double—not a bad haul for such an inconspicuous constellation.

To read about more events, check out my regular This Week’s Sky column at SkyNews.ca.