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News for Norther Colorado and the world

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Sky Tonight—January 22, Faint, fuzzy object near Sirius is a star cluster

Courtesy of EarthSky
A Clear Voice for Science

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phase22 Sky Tonight—January 22, Faint, fuzzy object near Sirius is a star clusterjan22 Sky Tonight—January 22, Faint, fuzzy object near Sirius is a star clusterA reader wrote, “On November 4, I went to study the constellation Orion, but first I had to see the star Sirius and there was a glimmer below Sirius and upon looking, it seemed to be a very nice comet. Has anyone else seen this? I am a newby … (and) would like someone to verify if they see this. I am quite up and excited.”

It was not a comet, but very likely was a lovely star cluster called M41. So, the identification with a comet was wrong, but it is a reasonable mistake. The nuclei of comets look like fuzzy patches, much like M41 in a small telescope.

The confusion with a comet and this cluster is not a new one. In the late 1700s, Charles Messier gave this object the number 41 on his list of “objects to avoid.” He was a comet hunter who wanted others to realize that this object, which looks like a comet, really is not.

There are over 100 of the so-called ‘Messier objects’ or “M-objects” known today. Today’s amateur astronomers consider them among the most prized objects to be viewed through binoculars and small telescopes. Here is a list of M-objects. Advanced amateurs can observe them all, and can earn a Messier certificate from the Astronomical League.

Throughout the winter season, look for this faint fuzzy object near the bright star Sirius – M41 – a star cluster masquerading as a comet.

Written by Larry Sessions


Astronomy Picture of the Day from NASA/JPL

EarthSky: Space

CHANDRA Photo Album

U.S. Naval Observator Astronomical Information center

Universe Today

StarDate Online

Sky and Telescope

National Geographic

Space Com

Simostronomy Blog

Amazing Space

The York County Astronomical Society

Scope City

James S McDonnell Planetarium

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