M44 The Beehive Cluster
Object Type: Star Cluster
Scope: APO 80mm
Exposure 42 minutes
The Beehive Cluster, also known as Praesepe (Latin for "manger"), M44, NGC 2632, or Cr 189, is an open cluster in the constellation Cancer. It is one of the nearest open clusters to the Solar System, and it contains a larger star population than most other nearby clusters. Under dark skies the Beehive Cluster looks like a nebulous object to the naked eye; thus it has been known since ancient times. The classical astronomer Ptolemy called it "the nebulous mass in the breast of Cancer," and it was among the first objects that Galileo studied with his telescope.
The cluster's age and proper motion coincide with those of the Hyades open cluster, suggesting that both share a similar origin. Both clusters also contain red giants and white dwarfs, which represent later stages of stellar evolution, along with main sequence stars of spectral classes A, F, G, K, and M.
The Beehive is most easily observed when Cancer is high in the sky; in northern latitudes this occurs during the evening from February to May. At 95 arcminutes across, the cluster fits well in the field of view of a pair of binoculars or a telescope of low power.
Galileo was the first to observe the Beehive in a telescope, in 1609, and was able to resolve it into 40 stars. Charles Messier added it to his famous catalog in 1769 after precisely measuring its position in the sky. Along with the Orion Nebula and the Pleiades cluster, Messier's inclusion of the Beehive has been noted as curious, as most of Messier's objects were much fainter and more easily confused with comets. One possibility is that Messier simply wanted to have a larger catalog than his scientific rival Lacaille, whose 1755 catalog contained 42 objects, and so he added some bright, well-known objects to boost his list.
Ancient Greeks and Romans saw this object as a manger from which two donkeys, the adjacent stars Asellus Borealis and Asellus Australis, are eating; these are the donkeys that Dionysos and Silenus rode into battle against the Titans.
In September, 2012 two planets which orbit separate stars were discovered in the Beehive Cluster. The finding was significant for being the first planets detected orbiting stars like Earth's Sun that were situated in stellar clusters. Planets had previously been detected in such clusters, but not orbiting stars like the Sun.
The planets have been designated Pr0201b and Pr0211b. The 'b' at the end of their names indicates that the bodies are planets. The discoveries are what have been termed Hot Jupiters, massive gas giants that, unlike the planet Jupiter, orbit very close to their parent stars.