messier 44
messier 44 Back to Index Page Previous Image Next Image
Located near the heart of the zodiacal constellation Cancer, Messier 44 appears as a distinctive "fuzzy" glow to the unaided eye under relatively dark springtime skies. Although commonly known today as the Beehive, this open cluster of stars has had many names including its historical title "Praesepe". Predating modern astronomy, the word Praesepe is often translated to mean "manger or stable for feeding livestock". Meanwhile, the pair of naked eye stars seen flanking the bright cluster to the north and south (Delta and Gamma Cancri) were known to ancient mariners as Aselli (or ass's colts), which were seen to be gathered around the glimmering manger (the star cluster) on clear, moonless nights. Much more folklore revolves around this particular grouping of stars and how the ancients used it to forecast upcoming weather! Visually, the Beehive spans more than two degrees of sky and at about 500 light years distant is thought to be one of the closest star clusters to Earth. Evaluation of the surrounding starfields has revealed more than 300 stars belonging to the cluster, while images such as the one above actually show several tiny distant galaxies literally shining through the sparse cluster. One of the more conspicuous of such background objects is the edge on spiral galaxy UGC 4526 located in the lower righthand quadrant of this image. Image taken with homemade 8-inch f/5.4 astrograph and SBIG STL-11000XM. RGB image composed of 20 minutes each R,G,B all taken under a full moon! Please click on the image above for the high resolution version.