Coma Cluster (Berenice's Hair) -- Open Cluster in Coma Berenices
When under a clear sky, away from city lights, without optical aid, the Open Cluster, Melotte
111, hangs like a translucent cobweb tangle, ten-times the size of the full moon, between
the bright stars Denebola (Beta Leonis) and Cor Caroli (Alpha Canum Venaticorum).
Living as I do under light-polluted suburban skies, I forget how impressive this wonderful
cloud-of-star-light is when seen under a clear night sky. And this is the way to view it, no
binoculars, no telescopes, just your eyes. It is one of the true marvels of the night sky. The
entire constellation of Coma Berenices carries the name of this star cluster. But it is the
cluster proper that has sparked poets, story tellers and amateur astronomers who gaze at
Queen Berenice II, was the wife and sister, to King Ptolemy III, of Egypt. She was famous not
only for her beauty but also for her very long amber-colored hair. When King Ptolemy III was
off to war, Berenice was afraid that he would not return. After consulting the oracle for the
goddess Aphrodite, she promised that she would sacrifice her hair for the promise that the
King would return home safely. He did, and she gave her long locks to the goddess. The
King was not pleased – there was nothing more beautiful in his eyes than Berenice’s hair.
When he went to the oracle, the priest showed the King that his wife’s hair was now suspended
in the heavens for all to see and enjoy.
The 5th and 6th magnitude stars that make-up Berenice’s hair can only be seen with
binoculars/telescope from my backyard. For this drawing I used a my rich-field 85mm
refractor that gave me a 4.7-degree field of view at a magnification of 17x. Even so, I
needed more that one drawing to capture the full extent of the open cluster. I used a
higher-power eyepiece to observe several of the double stars and the three brighter
galaxies (NGC 4559, NGC 4565, NGC 4494) that fell within or near the cluster. This
drawing is a composite of all the drawings I did at the telescope, using both eyepieces.