Flying Minnow (Melotte 31) -- Asterism in Auriga
The Flying Minnow
Within the polygon that makes up the constellation Auriga, just west of Messier 36 and
four to five degrees north of Alnath (Beta Tauri), lays a hodgepodge of small open
clusters, emission and reflection nebulae. These often-overlapping deep sky objects
are crammed on colored star charts to the point that it appears that someone
accidentally spilled multi-color paint on the maps.
On the evening of February 9th, 2019, the crescent moon was low in the western sky
and the constellation Auriga was at the zenith. It was as good a time, as ever, to try
and make sense of the splattering of colorful marks on the star charts. It always helps
to have a good celestial reference point to move the telescope to and from the objects
in question. The asterism the Flying Minnow was a perfect reference point for the
night’s exploration. It is nearly at the center of the confusing array of ill-defined deep
sky objects and its stars are bright enough to be easily identified. The stars 16, 17,
18 and 19 Aurigae are part of the asterism. The asterism is noticeable, but I personally
have difficulty making it into a fish.
It was here that I started my four-plus-hour journey of observing and drawing the wealth
of celestial activity at and around the asterism. The Flying Minnow itself desired to be
drawn. It was my first, of several, drawings for the night. This asterism is occasionally
identified as Melotte 31 in some star atlases (but not in most). A Melotte number
implies that it is an open cluster, but most sources claim that it is not a cluster, only a
chance arrangement of unrelated stars.