See the Beehive Cluster and moon in binoculars
See the Beehive Cluster in binoculars
If you’ve never seen the Beehive Cluster – Messier 44 or M44 – at the heart of the constellation Cancer the Crab, now’s your chance. The moon will lead you right to it on the morning of September 21, 2022. On that morning, the waning crescent moon passes about three degrees, or the width of six full moons, from the Beehive Cluster. The cluster itself is large, spanning 1 1/2 degrees, or three moon widths.
Even though the moon is in a crescent phase, it’s bright enough that you’ll want to use binoculars to pick up the spattering of stars nearby. It’s possible to see the cluster without optical aid, but binoculars make it easier. To get a better view of the cluster, position the moon just outside the field of view. This will help more of the stars come into view. Also, observing from a dark sky site offers you a better view of this swarm of 1,000-some stars.
The stars in this cluster lie some 500 to 600 light-years distant. When you gaze at the Beehive, think about how many planets might reside among these 1,000 stars. We already know of at least six.
Take some time with the moon
As long as you have your binoculars out, focus on the moon too, but only after you’ve gotten your fill of the cluster. The bright moon in binoculars will impair your night vision so that you see fewer stars. But while it’s still dark, use your binoculars to explore the terminator on the moon, the dividing line between day and night. This is where the mountains, valleys and craters come into stark relief. It often inspires awe in people when they first see the moon through magnification.
Even without binoculars, you should be able to see the lovely glow of earthshine on the moon. Earthshine is the light reflected from the dayside of Earth onto the moon’s darkened portion. As dawn nears and the sky brightens, the earthshine portion of the moon will fade from sight.
Bottom line: You can see the Beehive Cluster, M44, on the morning of September 21, 2022. The waning crescent moon will fit in the same binocular field of view.
For more great observing events in the coming weeks, visit EarthSky’s night sky guide