M44 (Praesepe or Beehive Cluster) -- Open Cluster in Cancer
Away from the city where light-pollution is none-existent, a distinct soft-blur, larger than
the full moon, marks the center of the constellation of the Crab (Cancer). The combined
light from the glow in Cancer is brighter than any of the constellation’s stars. From my
suburban yard in Maryland, I look for the crab, but the sky is empty above the head of
the Hydra. The stars in Cancer are invisible and there is no soft-glow to be seen. From
the deck of my house, raising my binoculars the huge open cluster M44 easily pops into
Long before telescopes, the soft glow emanating from Cancer, fired the imagination.
M44 goes by many names since it was visible to all before electricity. Today, it is most
often referred as the Beehive Cluster or as Praesepe (the remains of the holy manger).
It was no one less than Galileo who first turned a telescope to the soft-blur in the sky
and discovered that it was a collection of stars.
To view the cluster, it is best to use the widest field-of-view that you can get in your
telescope, of even better use a pair of binoculars. I was able to draw the full cluster in
my 155mm f7 telescope, using a 41mm Panoptic eyepiece (2.4-degree-field-of-view),
but I find this magnificent cluster even more esthetically pleasing through a pair of