Looking Up: Bee-lightful, Bee-licious, Bee-lovely

Jan 30, 2017

This week on Looking Up Hal shares the beeswax on the Beehive Cluster. 

A 'grand' cluster
Credit Bob Franke / Nasa.gov

Ever wonder what’s the buzz about what’s up in the southern Colorado sky right now? Well, part of it could be coming from a stellar apiologist -- the Beehive Cluster.

Located in the constellation Cancer the Crab, the Beehive Cluster is visible to the naked eye is a fuzzy patch of sky, and is gorgeous in binoculars or a small telescope. This open cluster of stars has been known since ancient times, and is one of the closest such clusters at only about 550 ly away.

The Beehive contains roughly 1000 stars, with about two thirds being class M dwarf stars, and about 30% being similar to our own Sun. The remaining few percent are mostly superbright class A stars, along with a handful of a half dozen giants. The stars are estimated to range from 600 million to 750 million years old.

Interestingly, these numbers match up pretty closely with the far more famous and easily visible open star cluster in Taurus, known as the Hyades. And astronomers have been able to backtrack, so to speak, the motion of both clusters through space, and it seems quite possible that they shared a similar origin story, with both born in a vast ancient cloud of interstellar gas.

Open clusters like the Beehive are some of the most beautiful objects in the night sky. Shining like brilliant diamonds, close together, an observer with binoculars will see perhaps 75 stars. Looking through a larger telescope will yield a view of perhaps 200 or more bright and brilliant stars.

In 2012, astronomers found two stars, similar to our own Sun, with the least one planet going around each. Should either planet be populated with astronomers, one can only marvel at the night sky they would see from deep within the heart of the thousand-star cluster. Talk about looking up.

If you’d like to take a closer look at the Beehive Cluster, or any of the other wonderful and amazing things in the sky, please visit CSASTRO.org for a link to information on our monthly meetings and our free public star parties! 

This is Hal Bidlack for the Colorado Springs Astronomical Society, telling you to keep looking up, Southern Colorado!