Tonight – February 27, 2016 – look eastward at early evening and you can’t miss the dazzling planet Jupiter above the horizon. Jupiter is now climbing upward during the evening hours and reaching its highest point for the night after midnight.
Jupiter, the king planet, will serve as your faithful guide to the Beehive star cluster (aka Messier 44) for months to come. Look for the star Regulus above Jupiter at early evening, and then draw an imaginary line from Jupiter through Regulus, going roughly twice the Jupiter-Regulus distance, to locate the wondrous Beehive cluster.
The Beehive, one of the finest star clusters in all the heavens, counts the crown jewel of the constellation Cancer the Crab. Sharp-eyed sky gazers can see the Beehive cluster as a small faint cloud on a dark, moonless night. Yet, if any sky object is custom-designed for binoculars, it’s the Beehive star cluster. Through binoculars, you’ll see this wispy smudge of light transformed into a sparkling array of stars.
Sky chart of the constellation Cancer and the Beehive (M44)
Bottom line: Use the planet Jupiter and the star Regulus to find the Beehive star cluster tonight and for many nights to come!