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Astronomy From West Virginia

STAR CLUSTER M37 HIGH IN THE LATE WINTER SKIES

BRIDGEPORT, WV (S-M) - It is always exciting when one happens upon an object that, by some trick of chance, has not been seen for a long time. Even though the object may be well known, when it is new to the observer it is still a new discovery, in a sense.

 

So it was one cold night this past December when we happened to take a look at the open cluster M37 in Auriga. Although surely one of the most famous objects in the sky, it had not found our attention for many years. Perhaps it was because we recalled looking at it with a very small telescope decades ago, and finding it to be quite disappointing.

 

We had been missing out on a good thing, however. The Messier open clusters through Auriga are some of the best in the sky, if one has a telescope large enough to see the vast swarms of fainter stars. M37 is the greatest of these, and we agreed after viewing it that it was possibly the greatest open cluster we have ever seen. What had appeared as just a few stars in that refractor years ago can now be seen, in our larger telescope, as an uncountable number of stars. The appearance is quite similar to a globular cluster, but we must keep a sense of scale. M37, around 4000 light years distant, is perhaps one fifth the distance of most globulars, and its apparent richness is partly due to our relatively close vantage point. There is no doubt that number thirty-seven is an open cluster, albeit a very condensed one.

 

M37 was easy to find by positioning the telescope about 40% of the way between Theta Aurigi and the star Alnath which, as the end of the western horn of the bull, is shared between Auriga and Taurus. Then we moved the scope about two degrees east, and the cluster could not be missed. The first time it was seen through a ten inch telescope, it was hard to imagine we had missed out on the cluster for all these years. Even the Double Clusters to the northwest in Perseus cannot compare for the sheer concentration of stars. As if to add a cherry on top of this celestial treat, there is a bright red star near the center of the cluster which provides a color contrast to the glittering silvery stars. - GW

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M37 is an open cluster in Auriga.  It takes a fairly large telescope of short focal length to show it well.