|M44 "Beehive": Open Star Cluster (Cancer) RA: 08h 40.4m / DEC: +19° 40'.0|
Instrument: 10-inch Starfinder
This open star cluster is visible in the heart of Cancer from any dark sky site. I've seen it naked eye with a full Moon glaring blasting away in nearby Leo. M44 is located about 2 degrees northwest of 3.9 magnitude Delta (47) Cancri. The cluster covers a 1.5 degree area. Commonly known as the Beehive Cluster, M44 is a wonderful binocular object and is simply spectacular viewed through a short focal length refractor. My drawing is based on a 36X view covering a 1.4 degree area. This is the largest true field I can produce in the 10-inch without introducing too much coma. Sixty-five members of the Beehive are shown, including many 6th and 7th magnitude stars.
The origin of the moniker, Beehive, is somewhat of a mystery. This cluster has been known since antiquity due to its obvious visibility to the naked eye. Praesepe, or manger, is the oldest known common name for M44. The best candidate I can offer as the originator of "Beehive," is Admiral William Henry Smyth. A retired officer of the Royal Navy, Smyth used a 6-inch refractor to observe a variety of deep-sky objects during the 1830s. His popular 1844 text, Cycle of Celestial Objects, includes "Bee hive" as a name for the Praesepe. This is the earliest use of that moniker I've found.
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Revised: February 10, 2002 [WDF]