Messier 41 – the NGC 2287 Open Star Cluster

Image of the open star cluster Messier 41, highlighting its combination of red dwarf, white dwarf and K3-type class stars. Credit: Wikisky

Welcome back to Messier Monday! In our ongoing tribute to the great Tammy Plotner, we take a look at the double star known as Messier 41. Enjoy!

During the 18th century, famed French astronomer Charles Messier noted the presence of several “nebulous objects” in the night sky. Having originally mistaken them for comets, he began compiling a list of them so that others would not make the same mistake he did. In time, this list (known as the Messier Catalog) would come to include 100 of the most fabulous objects in the night sky.

One of these objects is the open star cluster known as Messier 41 (aka. M41, NGC 2287). Located in the Canis Major constellation – approximately 4,300 light years from Earth – this cluster lies just four degrees south of Sirius, the brightest star in the night sky. Like most open clusters, it is relatively young – 190 million years old – and contains over 100 stars in a region measuring 25 to 26 light years in diameter.


Running away from us at a speed of about 34 kilometers per second, this field of about 100 stars measures about 25 light years across. Born about 240 million years ago, it resides in space approximately 2300 light years away from our solar system. Larger aperture telescopes will reveal the presence of many red (or orange) giant stars and the hottest star in this group is a spectral type A.

View of the night sky in North Carolina, showing the constellations of Orion, Hyades, Canis Major and Canis Minor. Credit: NASA

As G.L.H. Harris (et al) explained in a 1993 study:

“We have obtained photoelectric UBV photometry for 100 stars, uvbyb photometry for 39 stars and MK spectral types for 80 stars in the field of NGC 2287. After combination with data from other sources, several interesting cluster properties are apparent. Both the UBV and uvbyb photometry point to a small but nonzero reddening, while our spectral types confirm previous results indicating a high binary frequency for the cluster. Based on our spectral and photometric data for the cluster members, we find a minimum binary frequency of 40% and discuss the possibility that the results may imply a binary frequency closer to 80%. The cluster age is found to be based on both the main-sequence turnoff and the red giant distribution; the width of the turn up region can probably be explained by a combination of duplicity and a range in stellar rotation.”

But there’s more than just red giant stars and various spectral types to be found hiding in Messier 41. There’s at least two white dwarf stars, too. As P.D Dobbie explained in a 2009 study:

“[W]e use our estimates of their cooling times together with the cluster ages to constrain the lifetimes and masses of their progenitor stars. We examine the location of these objects in initial mass-final mass space and find that they now provide no evidence for substantial scatter in initial mass-final mass relation (IFMR) as suggested by previous investigations. This form is generally consistent with the predictions of stellar evolutionary models and can aid population synthesis models in reproducing the relatively sharp drop observed at the high mass end of the main peak in the mass distribution of white dwarfs.”

Messier 41 and Collinder 121. Image: Wikisky

As you view Messier 41, you’ll be impressed with its wide open appearance… and knowing it’s simply what happens to star clusters as they get passed around our galaxy. As Giles Bergond (et al.) stated in their 2001 study:

“Taking into account observational biases, namely the galaxy clustering and differential extinction in the Galaxy, we have associated these stellar overdensities with real open cluster structures stretched by the galactic gravitational field. As predicted by theory and simulations, and despite observational limitations, we detected a general elongated (prolate) shape in a direction parallel to the galactic Plane, combined with tidal tails extended perpendicularly to it. This geometry is due both to the static galactic tidal field and the heating up of the stellar system when crossing the Disk. The time varying tidal field will deeply affect the cluster dynamical evolution, and we emphasize the importance of adiabatic heating during the Disk-shocking. During the 10-20 Z-oscillations experienced by a cluster before its dissolution in the Galaxy, crossings through the galactic Disk contribute to at least 15% of the total mass loss. Using recent age estimations published for open clusters, we find a destruction time-scale of about 600 million years for clusters in the solar neighborhood.”

That means we’ve only got another 360 million years to observe it before it’s completely gone (though some estimates place it at about 500 million). Either way, this star cluster is destined to disappear, perhaps before we are!

History of Observation:

Messier 41 was “possibly” recorded by Aristotle about 325 B.C. as a patch in the Milky Way… quite understandable since it is very much within unaided eye visibility from a dark sky location. Said Aristotle:

“.. some of the fixed stars have tails. And for this we need not rely only on the evidence of the Egyptians who say they have observed it; we have observed it also ourselves. For one of the stars in the thigh of the Dog had a tail, though a dim one: if you looked hard at it the light used to become dim, but to less intent glance it was brighter.”

Messier 41 and Sirius. Image: Wikisky

However, Giovanni Batista Hodierna was the first to catalog it in 1654, and the star cluster became a bit more astronomically known when John Flamsteed independently found it again on February 16, 1702. Doing his duty, Charles Messier also logged it:

“In the night of January 16 to 17, 1765, I have observed below Sirius and near the star Rho of Canis Major a star cluster; when examining it with a night refractor, this cluster appeared nebulous; instead, there is nothing but a cluster of small stars. I have compared the middle with the nearest known star; and I found its right ascension of 98d 58′ 12″, and its declination 20d 33′ 50″ north.”

Following suit, other historical astronomers also observed M41 – including Sir John Herschel to include it in the NGC catalog. While none found it particularly thrilling… their notes range from a “coarse collection of stars” to “very large, bright, little compressed”, perhaps you will feel much differently about this easy, bright target!

Locating Messier 41:

Finding Messier 41 isn’t very difficult for binoculars and small telescopes – all you have to know is the brightest star in the northern hemisphere, Sirius, and south! Simply aim your optics at Sirius and move due south approximately four degrees. That’s about one standard field of view for binoculars, about one field of view for the average telescope finderscope and about 6 fields of view for the average wide field, low power eyepiece.

The location of Messier 41 in the Canis Major constellation. Credit: IAU and Sky & Telescope magazine/Roger Sinnott & Rick Fienberg

Because Messier 41 is a large star cluster, remember to use lowest magnification to get the best effect. Higher magnification can always be used once the star cluster is identified to study individual members. M41 is quite bright and easily resolved and makes a wonderful target for urban skies and moonlit nights!

Because you understand what’s there…

Object Name: Messier 41
Alternative Designations: M41, NGC 2287
Object Type: Open Galactic Star Cluster
Constellation: Canis Major
Right Ascension: 06 : 46.0 (h:m)
Declination: -20 : 44 (deg:m)
Distance: 2.3 (kly)
Visual Brightness: 4.5 (mag)
Apparent Dimension: 38.0 (arc min)

We have written many interesting articles about Messier Objects here at Universe Today. Here’s Tammy Plotner’s Introduction to the Messier Objects, , M1 – The Crab Nebula, M8 – The Lagoon Nebula, and David Dickison’s articles on the 2013 and 2014 Messier Marathons.

Be to sure to check out our complete Messier Catalog. And for more information, check out the SEDS Messier Database.


Are All the Stars Really Dead?

Are All the Stars Really Dead?

Have you ever heard that meme, “When looking at stars, you’re actually looking into the past. Many of the stars we see at night have already died.” Is this true?

While you’re flipping through your Pinterest collection of cat-based inspirational posters, you might come across the saying, “When looking at stars, you’re actually looking into the past. Many of the stars we see at night have already died. Like your dreams.”

Aww, that’s mean and sad. But is it true, Squidward? Are all these beautiful stars in our night sky long gone? Like our dreams?

Light travels at about 300,000 km/s, which is incredibly fast. Stars are so far away, even light from the closest stars will take years to get to us travelling at that speed. Most of the stars we see with the naked eye are actually pretty close. The brightest in the night sky is Sirius in the constellation Canis Major. It’s only about 8.6 light years away.

Which means if you crashed a whole bunch of spaceships into it tomorrow, we here on Earth wouldn’t see it happen for almost a decade. Long after people had stopped wondering where you’d picked up all those spaceships, and why had you decided to crash them into a star instead of trading for gold pressed latinum, the spice Melange, or magical space cheese.

One of the most distant naked eye stars is Deneb in the constellation Cygnus, which is almost 3,000 light years away. The light we’re seeing from Deneb started its journey towards us when ancient Rome was just a few hamlets and not even on the map for real estate speculators.

Cygnus. Credit: Stellarium
Cygnus. Credit: Stellarium

This might seem like a really long time for those of us without immortal robot bodies, but a few thousand years is negligible to the age of a typical star, which is on the order of billions of years. So, Deneb, barring removal for an interstellar bypass, is probably still there.

There are a few stars that could possibly explode in the near future, such as the red giant star Betelgeuse in the constellation of Orion.

It’s about 650 light years away, if it had exploded a couple centuries ago, we still wouldn’t know. There are a few galaxies that can be seen with the naked eye, such as Andromeda, which is about 2.5 million light years away. Given that Andromeda has somewhere between 200 and 400 billion stars, it is almost certain that some of them have exploded in the last 2 and a half million years. But the vast majority of them have are still there, twinkling away.

So it is possible that you could look up in the night sky and see a “dead” star, but almost all of the stars you see are perfectly active main-sequence stars, and will be for quite some time. Telescopes allow us to see much further out into space, billions of light years away. Given that a star like our Sun has a lifetime of about 10 billion years, many stars in most of the distant galaxies we observe died long ago.

This cluster is 27,000 light-years away and lies farther than the center of our galaxy in the constellation Sagittarius. Credit: NASA/ESA/I. King, Univ. of Calif., Berkeley/
This cluster is 27,000 light-years away and lies farther than the center of our galaxy in the constellation Sagittarius. Credit: NASA/ESA/I. King, Univ. of Calif., Berkeley/

But don’t be sad, we’re not running out of stars. Because of this huge passage of time, it means many new stars have been born, and we just aren’t able to see them yet. There are some stars even in the most distant galaxies that are still around.

Smaller stars live longer than larger stars, and red dwarf stars can live for trillions of years. So when you look at the Hubble Ultra Deep Field, the most distant galaxies are around 13 billion years old, and the smaller stars in those galaxies are still shining. So don’t worry. Those stars are still there, and so are your dreams.

What do you think? If you go get a closeup look and see which stars were still around, where would you go look first? Tell us in the comments below.

And if you like what you see, come check out our Patreon page and find out how you can get these videos early while helping us bring you more great content!

The Astronomy of the Dog Days of Summer

Looking east from latitude 30 north on August 3rd, 30 minutes before sunrise. (Created by the author in Stellarium).

Can you feel the heat?

It’s not just your imagination. The northern hemisphere is currently in the midst of the Dog Days of Summer. For many, early August means hot, humid days and stagnant, sultry nights.

The actual dates for the Dog Days of Summer vary depending on the source, but are usually quoted as running from mid-July to mid-August. The Old Farmer’s Almanac lists the Dog Days as running from July 3rd through August 11th.

But there is an ancient astronomical observation that ties in with the Dog Days of Summer, one that you can replicate on these early August mornings.

The sky was important to the ancients. It told them when seasons were approaching, when to plant crops, and when to harvest. Ancient cultures were keen observers of the cycles in the sky.  Cultures that were “astronomically literate” had a distinct edge over those who seldom bothered to note the goings on overhead.

The flooded Temple of Isis on the island of Philae circa 1905. (Credit: Wikimedia Commons under an Attribution-Share Alike 2.5 license. Author H.W. Dunning).
The flooded Temple of Isis on the island of Philae circa 1905. (Credit: Wikimedia Commons under an Attribution-Share Alike 2.5 license. Author H.W. Dunning).

Sirius was a key star for Egyptian astronomers. Identified with the goddess Isis, the Egyptian name for Sirius was Sopdet, the deification of Sothis. There is a line penned by the Greco-Roman scholar Plutarch which states:

“The soul of Isis is called ‘Dog’ by the Greeks.”

Political commentary? A mis-translation by Greek scholars? Whatever the case, the mythological transition from “Isis to Sothis to Dog Star” seems to have been lost in time.

These astronomer-priests noted that Sirius rose with the Sun just prior to the annual flooding of the Nile. The appearance of a celestial object at sunrise is known as a heliacal rising. If you can recover Sirius from behind the glare of the Sun, you know that the “Tears of Isis” are on their way, in the form of life-giving flood waters.

Sopdet as the personification of Sirius (note the star on the forehead)
Sopdet as the personification of Sirius (note the star on the forehead) Wikimedia Commons image under an Attribution Share Alike 3.0 license. Author Jeff Dahl).

In fact, the ancient Egyptians based their calendar on the appearance of Sirius and what is known as the Sothic cycle, which is a span of 1,461 sidereal years (365.25 x 4) in which the heliacal rising once again “syncs up” with the solar calendar.

It’s interesting to note that in 3000 BC, the heliacal rising of Sirius and the flooding of the Nile occurred around June 25th, near the summer solstice. This also marked the Egyptian New Year. Today it occurs within a few weeks of August 15th, owing to precession. (More on that in a bit!)

By the time of the Greeks, we start to see Sirius firmly referred to as the Dog Star. In Homer’s Iliad, King Priam refers to an advancing Achilles as:

“Blazing as the star that cometh forth at Harvest-time, shining forth amid the host of stars in the darkness of the night, the star whose name men call Orion’s Dog”

The Romans further promoted the canine branding for Sirius. You also see references to the “Dog Star” popping up in Virgil’s Aenid.

Over the years, scholars have also attempted to link the dog-headed god Anubis to Sirius. This transition is debated by scholars, and in his Star Names: Their Lore and Meaning, Richard Hinckley Allen casts doubt on the assertion.

Sirius as the shining "nose" of the constellation Canis Major. (Created by the author using Starry Night).
Sirius as the shining “nose” of the constellation Canis Major. (Created by the author using Starry Night).

Ancient cultures also saw the appearance of Sirius as signifying the onset of epidemics. Their fears were well founded, as summer flooding would also hatch a fresh wave of malaria and dengue fever-carrying mosquitoes.

Making a seasonal sighting of Sirius is fun and easy to do. The star is currently low to the southeast in the dawn, and rises successively higher each morning as August rolls on.

The following table can be used to aid your quest in Sirius-spotting.

Latitude north

Theoretical date when Sirius can 1st be spotted


August 3rd


August 4th


August 5th


August 6th


August 7th


August 8th


August 9th


August 10th


August 11th


August 12th


August 13th


August 14th


August 15th


August 16th


August 17th


August 18th


August 19th


August 20th


August 21st

Thanks to “human astronomical computer extraordinaire” Ed Kotapish for the compilation!

Note that the table above is perpetual for years in the first half of the 21st century. Our friend, the Precession of the Equinoxes pivots the equinoctial points to the tune of about one degree every 72 years. The Earth’s axis completes one full “wobble” approximately every 26,000 years. Our rotational pole only happens to be currently pointing at Polaris in our lifetimes. Its closest approach is around 2100 AD, after which the north celestial pole and Polaris will begin to drift apart. Mark your calendars—Vega will be the pole star in 13,727 AD. And to the ancient Egyptians, Thuban in the constellation Draco was the Pole Star!

Near Luxor (Photo by author).
The Colossi of Memnon Near Luxor, just one of the amazing architectural projects carried out by the ancient Egyptians. (Photo by author).

Keep in mind, atmospheric extinction is your enemy in this quest, as it will knock normally brilliant magnitude -1.46 Sirius a whopping 40 times in brightness to around magnitude +2.4.

Note that we have a nice line-up of planets in the dawn sky (see intro chart), which are joined by a waning crescent Moon this weekend. Jupiter and Mars ride high about an hour before sunrise, and if you can pick out Mercury at magnitude -0.5 directly below them, you should have a shot at spotting Sirius far to the south.

And don’t be afraid to “cheat” a little bit and use binoculars in your quest… we’ve even managed on occasion to track Sirius into the broad daylight. Just be sure to physically block the Sun behind a building or hill before attempting this feat!

Sirius as seen via Hubble- can you spy Sirius B? (NASA/ESA Hubble image).
Sirius as seen via Hubble- can you spy Sirius B? (Credit: NASA/ESA Hubble image).

Of course, the heliacal rising of Sirius prior to the flooding of the Nile was a convenient coincidence that the Egyptians used to their advantage. The ancients had little idea as to what they were seeing. At 8.6 light-years distant, Sirius is the brightest star in Earth’s sky during the current epoch. It’s also the second closest star visible to the naked eye from Earth. Only Alpha Centauri, located deep in the southern hemisphere sky is closer. The light you’re seeing from Sirius today left in early 2005, back before most of us had Facebook accounts.

Sirius also has a companion star, Sirius B. This star is the closest example of a white dwarf. Orbiting its primary once every 50 years, Sirius B has also been the center of a strange controversy we’ve explored in past writings concerning Dogon people of Mali.

Sirius B is difficult to nab in a telescope, owing to dazzling nearby Sirius A. This feat will get easier as Sirius B approaches apastron with a max separation of 11.5 arc seconds in  2025.

Some paleoastronomers have also puzzled over ancient records referring to Sirius as “red” in color.  While some have stated that this might overturn current astrophysical models, a far more likely explanation is its position low to the horizon for northern hemisphere observers. Many bright stars can take on a twinkling ruddy hue when seen low in the sky due to atmospheric distortion.

Let the Dog Days of Summer (& astronomy) begin! (Photo by author).
Let the Dog Days of Summer (& astronomy) begin! (Photo by author).

All great facts to ponder during these Dog Days of early August, perhaps as the sky brightens during the dawn and your vigil for the Perseid meteors draws to an end!

Weekly SkyWatcher’s Forecast: March 5-11, 2012

Open Cluster Messier 50 - Credit: NOAO/AURA/NSF


Greetings, fellow SkyWatchers! Our week begins with the dance of the planets and a gathering of asteroids. Keep watching as Mars makes its closest approach of the year – while Venus and Jupiter continue to get nearer. Celebrate the Full Worm Moon, interesting stars and beautful galaxies and clusters! Dust off those binoculars and telescopes and meet me in the backyard, because… Here’s what’s up!

Monday, March 5 – Today is the birthday of Gerardus Mercator, famed mapmaker, who started his life in 1512. Mercator’s time was a rough one for astronomy, but despite a prison sentence and the threat of torture and death for his “beliefs,” he went on to design a celestial globe in the year 1551.

Need a little celestial action of your own? Then be outside at twilight with a clear horizon to catch Mercury! joining the show with Venus and Jupiter. The swift inner planet will make a brief appearance on the western skyline just after the Sun dips below the horizon. To add to the fun, the planet Uranus is situated about 5 degrees to its southwest and asteroid Vesta is about 5 degrees south/southwest. More? Then know that asteroid Ceres is also here – just around 20 degrees to Mercury’s southeast. While the asteroids and Uranus really aren’t observable, it’s still fun to know they’re “hanging around” in the same small space!

Tonight we’ll ignore the Moon and use both Sirius and Beta Monocerotis as our guides to have a look at one fantastic galactic cluster for any optical aid – M50 (Right Ascension: 7 : 03.2 – Declination: -08 : 20). Hop about a fistwidth east-southeast of Beta, or northeast of Sirius…and be prepared!

Perhaps discovered as early as 1711 by G. D. Cassini, it was relocated by Messier in 1772 and confirmed by J. E. Bode in 1774. Containing perhaps as many as 200 members, this colorful old cluster resides almost 3000 light-years away. The light of the stars you are looking at tonight left this cluster at a time when iron was first being smelted and used in tools. The Mayan culture was just beginning to develop, while the Hebrews and Phoenicians were creating an alphabet. Do you wonder if it looked the same then as it does now? In binoculars you will see an almost heart-shaped collection of stars, while telescopes will begin to resolve out color and many fainter members – with a very notable red one in its midst. Enjoy this worthy cluster and make a note that you’ve captured another Messier object!

Now, point your telescope towards Mars! This universal date marks the closest approach of Mars and Earth (0.6737 AU = 100.78 million km). While it’s a far cry from being the much celebrated “size of the Moon”, Mars currently has an apparent diameter of 13.89″. This will make for some mighty fine observing, so be sure to check for a lot a great surface details!

Tuesday, March 6 – If you get a chance to see sunshine today, then celebrate the birthday of Joseph Fraunhofer, who was born in 1787. As a German scientist, Fraunhofer was truly a “trailblazer” in terms of modern astronomy. His field? Spectroscopy! After having served his apprenticeship as a lens and mirror maker, Fraunhofer went on to develop scientific instruments, specializing in applied optics. While designing the achromatic objective lens for the telescope, he was watching the spectrum of solar light passing through a thin slit and saw the dark lines which make up the “rainbow bar code.” Fraunhofer knew that some of these lines could be used as a wavelength standard so he began measuring. The most prominent of the lines he labeled with letters that are still in use. His skill in optics, mathematics and physics led Fraunhofer to design and build the very first diffraction grating which was capable of measuring the wavelengths of specific colors and dark lines in the solar spectrum. Did his telescope designs succeed? Of course! His work with the achromatic objective lens is the design still used in modern telescopes!

In 1986, the first of eight consecutive days of flybys began as VEGA 1 and Giotto became the very first spacecraft to reach Halley’s Comet. Tonight let’s just fly by the Moon and have a look at Theta Aurigae. 2.7 magnitude Theta is a four star system ranging in magnitudes from 2.7 to 10.7. The brightest companion – Theta B – is magnitude 7.2 and is separated from the primary by slightly more than 3 arc seconds. Remember that this is what is known as a “disparate double” and look for the two fainter members well away from the primary.

Wednesday, March 7 – Today the only child of William Herschel (the discoverer of Uranus) was born in 1792 – John Herschel. He became the first astronomer to thoroughly survey the southern hemisphere’s sky, and he was discoverer of photographic fixer. Also born on this day, but in 1837, was Henry Draper – the man who made the first photograph of a stellar spectrum.

Tonight the great Grimaldi, found in the central region of the Moon near the terminator is the best lunar feature for binoculars. If you would like to see how well you have mastered your telescopic skills, then let’s start there. About one Grimaldi length south, you’ll see a narrow black ellipse with a bright rim. This is Rocca. Go the same distance again (and a bit east) to spot a small, shallow crater with a dark floor. This is Cruger, and its lava-filled interior is very similar to another study – Billy. Now look between them. Can you see a couple of tiny dark markings? Believe it or not, this is called Mare Aestatis. It’s not even large enough to be considered a medium-sized crater, but is a mare!

Take the time tonight to have a look at Delta Monocerotis with binoculars. Although it is not a difficult double star, it is faint enough to require some optical aid. If you are using a telescope, hop to Epsilon. It’s a lovely yellow and blue system that’s perfect for small apertures.

Thursday, March 8 – On this day in 1977, the NASA airborne occultation observatory made a unique discovery – Uranus had rings!

Tonight we’ll play ring around the Full Moon. In many cultures, it is known as the “Worm Moon.” As ground temperatures begin to warm and produce a thaw in the northern hemisphere, earthworms return and encourage the return of robins. For the Indians of the far north, this was also considered the “Crow Moon.” The return of the black bird signaled the end of winter. Sometimes it has been called the “Crust Moon” because warmer temperatures melt existing snow during the day, leaving it to freeze at night. Perhaps you may have also heard it referred to as the “Sap Moon.” This marks the time of tapping maple trees to make syrup. To early American settlers, it was called the “Lenten Moon” and was considered to be the last full Moon of winter. For those of us in northern climes, let’s hope so!

Friday, March 9 – Today is the anniversary of the Sputnik 9 launch in 1966 which carried a dog named Chernushka (Blackie). Also today we recognize the birth of David Fabricius. Born in 1564, Fabricus was the discoverer of the first variable star – Mira. Tonight let’s visit with an unusual variable star as we look at Beta Canis Majoris – better known as Murzim.

Located about three fingerwidths west-southwest of Sirius, Beta is a member of a group of stars known as quasi-Cepheids – stars which have very short term and small brightness changes. First noted in 1928, Beta changes no more than .03 in magnitude, and its spectral lines will widen in cycles longer than those of its pulsations.

When you’ve had a look at Beta, hop another fingerwidth west-southwest for open cluster NGC 2204 (Right Ascension: 6 : 15.7 – Declination: -18 : 39). Chances are, this small collection of stars was discovered by Caroline Herschel in 1783, but it was added to William’s list. This challenging object is a tough call for even large binoculars and small telescopes, since only around a handful of its dim members can be resolved. To the larger scope, a small round concentration can be seen, making this Herschel study one of the more challenging. While it might not seem like it’s worth the trouble, this is one of the oldest of galactic clusters residing in the halo and has been a study for “blue straggler” stars.

Saturday, March 10 – Since this is a weekend night and we’ve a short time before Moonrise, why not break out the big telescope and do a little galaxy hopping in the region south of Beta Canis Majoris?

Our first mark will be NGC 2207 – a 12.3 magnitude pair of interacting galaxies. Located some 114 million light-years away, this pair is locked in a gravitational tug of war. The larger of the pair is NGC 2207 (Right Ascension: 6 : 16.4 – Declination: -21 : 22), and it is estimated the encounter began with the Milky Way-sized IC 2163 about 40 million years ago. Like the M81 and M82 pair, NGC 2207 will cannibalize the smaller galaxy – yet the true space between the stars is so far apart that actual collisions may never occur. While our eyes may never see as grandly as a photograph, a mid-sized telescope will make out the signature of two galactic cores with intertwining material. Enjoy this great pair!

Now shift further southeast for NGC 2223 (Right Ascension: 6 : 24.6 – Declination: -22 : 50). Slightly fainter and smaller than the previous pair, this round, low surface brightness galaxy shows a slightly brighter nucleus area and a small star caught on its southern edge. While it seems a bit more boring, it did have a supernova event as recently as 1993!

Sunday, March 11 – Tonight let’s return to Canis Major with binoculars and have a look at Omicron 1, the western-most star in the central Omicron pair. While this bright, colorful gathering of stars is not a true cluster, it is certainly an interesting group.

For larger binoculars and telescopes, hop on to Tau northeast of Delta and the open cluster NGC 2362 (Right Ascension: 7: 18.8 – Declination: -24 : 5). At a distance of about 4600 light-years, this rich little cluster contains about 40 members and is one of the youngest of all known star clusters. Many of the stars you can resolve have not even reached main sequence yet! Still gathering themselves together, it is estimated this stellar collection is less than a million years old. Its central star, Tau, is believed to be a true cluster member and one of the most luminous stars known. Put as much magnification on this one as skies will allow – it’s a beauty!

Until next week? Dreams really do come true when you keep on reaching for the stars!

If you enjoy this weekly observing column, then you’d love the fully illustrated The Night Sky Companion 2012. It’s available in both Kindle and soft cover formats!