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The Night Sky: Auriga and Star Cluster M37

The constellation Auriga … a river of stars runs through it.

Attached is a picture of the constellation Auriga the charioteer taken with a Canon T1i and a 28mm camera lens. Auriga can be found straight up this time of year. The bright star in the upper left of Auriga is called Capella (labeled C). Capella is the sixth brightest star in our sky and is 42 light years away. It dwarfs our Sun in both size and true brightness.

The plane of the Milky Way galaxy runs through Auriga so many star clusters and nebula are found here. Three star clusters cataloged as M36, M37, and M38 can be seen (numbered) near the center right of the picture. In this wide angle picture of Auriga the star clusters appear as bluish patches, but magnified through a telescope these star clusters reveal their true nature with hundreds of stars.

To illustrate this magnified concept I’ve also attached a close up picture of the star cluster M37. This picture was taken through a telescope at the Round Hill Observatory. M37 is estimated to be 300 million years old, 4,400 light-years away, and contains about 150 stars. It is a typical galactic star cluster.

From our viewing position in the plane of the Milky Way galaxy, we can see about 1,100 galactic star clusters. Although the Milky Way galaxy contains many more than that, the galaxy itself blocks our view of the more distant star clusters in the galactic plane.

Galactic clusters are sometimes called an open star cluster due to their loose and irregular shapes. They can contain as few as 30 stars, or many thousands of stars. Star sizes in open clusters range from small ‘brown dwarfs’ of 1/10 solar mass up to giant stars of 80 solar masses. Like most open star clusters, M37 becomes a jewel box of different colored stars when magnified.

Wishing you starry nights!

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

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