The Beehive Cluster
Facts about and images of M44, also known as the Beehive Cluster.
The Beehive Cluster is an open star cluster located in the constellation Cancer, about 600 lightyears from Earth.
The cluster is also known as M44, its designation in the famous Messier Catalogue, or Praesepe.
The Beehive Cluster is relatively young, estimated to be about 600 million years old, and is thought to host about 1,000 stars, covering an area about 15 lightyears wide.
It is one of the most well-known objects in the Messier Catalogue and can be seen with the naked eye under good conditions, making it a popular target for conjunctions with the Moon and panets.
The Beehive Cluster is also noteworthy because in 2021, astronomers announced the discovery of two massive, hot exoplanets in orbit around two of its Sun-like stars, named Pr0201b and Pr0211b.
Since the first exoplanet discoveries in the 1990s, astronomers now estimate that for every star we can see in the night sky, there is likely at least one planet in orbit around it.
How to find the Beehive Cluster
The Beehive Cluster, M44, is a superb and easy target to hunt down.
Start at the Plough, on the side nearest the handle. Extend a line down towards the horizon for a distance twice the length of the Plough to find the bright star Regulus.
Next, find Orion. Extend a line from Orion’s lower-right star (Rigel) through its upper-right star (Betelgeuse) for twice that distance again to find Castor and Pollux.
Using binoculars, you’ll find M44 slightly below the mid-point of the line joining Castor to Regulus.
Below is a selection of images of the Beehive Cluster captured by astrophotographers and BBC Sky at Night Magazine readers.
For astro imaging advice, read our guide on how to photograph the stars or our beginner's guide to astrophotography.
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