Queen of Star Clusters

Cassiopeia the Queen

Trying to find deep space objects in the night sky can be a challenge if you don’t know where to look. In order to make it easier to find these pieces of stellar eye candy, we look for the landmarks of the sky, called constellations. These easily recognizable patterns of stars in the sky help point us in the right direction.

One of the easiest constellations to spot for us in the Northern Hemisphere is Cassiopeia. Appearing as a large “W”, the constellation represents a queen’s throne. Cassiopeia is a circumpolar constellation, which makes it visible all year, albeit in different orientations. What is great about Cassiopeia is that it is a good place to point your telescope or binoculars, as it features several open star clusters. The Milky Way, our home galaxy also runs through Cassiopeia as well. Let’s take a look at some of the neat star clusters Cassiopeia contains…

NGC-457 star cluster
NGC-457 star cluster

First up is the Owl Cluster, NGC-457. It can be located just below and to the right of the left-bottom point of the “W”. It gets its name because it looks like an owl with two bright eyes and outstretched wings. The Owl Cluster lies around 7,900 light years away, and contains nearly 150 stars or so. It’s fairly easy to spot, thanks to its recognizable shape, and its brightness. NGC-457 is a good target for beginners.

M103 star cluster

Nearby to NGC-457 is the M103 star cluster. M103 is located just to the left of the bottom left point of the “W”. M103 is pretty far away from us at nearly 10,000 light years’ distance. This is one of the most distant open clusters that we can see. M103 is fairly small for an open cluster, but is still a great target for skywatchers. It lies fairly close to its guide star in Cassiopeia as well, so you shouldn’t have too much difficulty spotting this cluster.

NGC-663 star cluster
NGC-663 star cluster

To the left of M103 is yet another open cluster NGC-663. This cluster is around 6,800 light years from Earth. This open cluster contains more stars than M103, allowing you to tell them apart. This open cluster is another easy-to-find object for beginners, and it’s very pretty to look at!

M52 star cluster
M52 star cluster

Yet another open star cluster to be found in Cassiopeia is M52. M52 can be found by finding the right-most line of the “W”, then following that angle from the top star of that line. Lying between 3,000-7,000 light years away, this is yet another beautiful open cluster that you can spot in Cassiopeia.

Perseus Double Cluster
Perseus Double Cluster

Finally, keeping with the open star clusters is the Perseus Double Cluster, also known as the pair NGC-869 and NGC-884. While not officially contained within Cassiopeia, the Double Cluster lies really close. It can be found below and to the left of M103 and NGC-663. Both of these clusters are around 7,500 light years away, and can be seen with the naked eye on a clear, dark night. The Double Cluster is a unique sight, with two open clusters so close together. It’s a very lovely sight, and should definitely be added to any skywatcher’s list of spotted objects!

If you’re looking to find some deep space objects, Cassiopeia is a great place to start your search! It’s a bright, easily found constellation, and is quite rich in open star clusters. Viewing the Milky Way in the background is an added treat! Finding the clusters in Cassiopeia will also allow you to add some NGC objects to your list as well as a pair of Messier objects. Great for beginners, be sure to point your telescopes and binoculars at Cassiopeia!

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