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.