Pictures of open star clusters

A guide to open star clusters and images captured by astrophotographers.

Messier 7 by Luis Fernando Parmegiani, São Paulo, Brazil. Equipment: GSO RC8

An open star cluster is a young group of loosely bound stars that all formed from the same vast region of cosmic gas known as a giant molecular cloud.

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Open clusters contain just hundreds or a few thousand stars gravitationally bound, but because they are loosely bound the stars spread out from one another over time. This is why they are known as ‘open’ star clusters.

This weakness in gravitational attraction between the stars in an open cluster is what makes gives them such irregular shapes.

Open star clusters are are also young, at just tens or hundreds of millions of years old.

NGC 659 by Jaspal Chadha, London, UK. Equipment: Takahasi TOA - 130N, 690 CCD, Ioptron CEM60 (unguided)
NGC 659 by Jaspal Chadha, London, UK. Equipment: Takahasi TOA – 130N, 690 CCD, Ioptron CEM60 (unguided)

Open clusters vs globular clusters

Open star clusters can be easily contrasted with globular clusters, because their properties are almost the mirror opposite of one another.

  • Open star clusters are loosely-packed, containing hundreds or thousands of stars
  • Globular clusters are densely packed, containing hundreds of thousands or even millions of stars.
  • Open star clusters form loose, irregular shapes
  • Globular clusters form dense, consistently round shapes
  • Open star clusters are tens or hundreds of millions of years old
  • Globular clusters are some of the oldest objects in the Universe: even as old as 12 billion years
NGC663, NGC654 & NGC659 - Open Clusters by Bill McSorley, Leeds, UK. Equipment: SW 150P Newtonian, EQ5 GoTo Mount, QHY8L cooled ccd OSC.
NGC663, NGC654 & NGC659 – Open Clusters by Bill McSorley, Leeds, UK. Equipment: SW 150P Newtonian, EQ5 GoTo Mount, QHY8L cooled ccd OSC.

There are thousands of open star clusters in the Milky Way, and they can be found in the disc of our Galaxy.

While the individual stars in an open cluster may last for billions of years, the cluster itself won’t last as long, because the lack of strong gravitational attraction causes them to disperse over time.

Open star clusters are extremely beautiful objects to observe and to photograph. Below is a selection of images of open clusters captured by BBC Sky at Night Magazine readers and astrophotographers.

For more info, read our guide to the best star clusters to observe with the naked eye, or our guide to deep-sky astrophotography.

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And if you do manage to photograph an open star cluster, be sure to send us your images or share them with us via Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

NGC659/663/654 Cassiopeia Open Cluster Triple by Mark Griffith, Swindon, Wiltshire, UK. Equipment: Skywatcher NEQ6 pro mount & Equinox 80mm refractor, Atik 383L+ camera, motorised filter wheel and Astronomik LRGB filters.
NGC659/663/654 Cassiopeia Open Cluster Triple by Mark Griffith, Swindon, Wiltshire, UK. Equipment: Skywatcher NEQ6 pro mount & Equinox 80mm refractor, Atik 383L+ camera, motorised filter wheel and Astronomik LRGB filters.
Kite Cluster by Japsal Chadha, London, UK. Equipment: Altair Astro RC250 TT, QSI 690 CCD, Ioptron CEM60 unguided, LRGB Altair Astro Filters
Kite Cluster by Japsal Chadha, London, UK. Equipment: Altair Astro RC250 TT, QSI 690 CCD, Ioptron CEM60 unguided, LRGB Altair Astro Filters
Kite Cluster by Japsal Chadha, London, UK. Equipment: Takahashi 130, Reducer, QSI 690CCD, IoptronCEM60 mount
Kite Cluster by Japsal Chadha, London, UK. Equipment: Takahashi 130, Reducer, QSI 690CCD, IoptronCEM60 mount
Messier 7 by Luis Fernando Parmegiani, São Paulo, Brazil. Equipment: GSO RC8
Messier 7 by Luis Fernando Parmegiani, São Paulo, Brazil. Equipment: GSO RC8″, NEQ6 Skywatcher, QHY9M, RGB filters
M11 by Ron Brecher, Ontario, Canada. Equipment: SBIG STL-11000M, Baader LRGB filters, 10
M11 by Ron Brecher, Ontario, Canada. Equipment: SBIG STL-11000M, Baader LRGB filters, 10″ f/6.8 ASA astrograph, MI-250 mount, STL-11000’s external guider, 500mm f.l. Lumicon guide scope, FocusMax, MaximDL.
M29 - Open Cluster in Cygnus by Bill McSorley, Leeds, UK. Equipment: SW 150P Newtonian Reflector, QHY8L OSC cooled ccd camera, EQ5 GoTo Mount.
M29 – Open Cluster in Cygnus by Bill McSorley, Leeds, UK. Equipment: SW 150P Newtonian Reflector, QHY8L OSC cooled ccd camera, EQ5 GoTo Mount.
M29 by Simon Fletcher, Birmingham, UK. Equipment: Moonraker Dark Matter ED80 mkI, NEQ6, PhD guided, EOS450 (un-modded), Skywatcher LP
M29 by Simon Fletcher, Birmingham, UK. Equipment: Moonraker Dark Matter ED80 mkI, NEQ6, PhD guided, EOS450 (un-modded), Skywatcher LP
Open Cluster M36 in the constellation Auriga by Ron Larter, Lowestoft, Suffolk, UK. Equipment: 5
Open Cluster M36 in the constellation Auriga by Ron Larter, Lowestoft, Suffolk, UK. Equipment: 5″ skywatcher refracter, Canon 450D at prime.
M38 Cluster by Jaspal Chadha, London, UK. Equipment: Takahashi 130, iOptron CEM60, QSI 690 CCD, LRGB.
M38 Cluster by Jaspal Chadha, London, UK. Equipment: Takahashi 130, iOptron CEM60, QSI 690 CCD, LRGB.
M38 by Bradley Swift, Rochdale, UK. Equipment: Skywatcher 150p Newtonian reflector, HEQ5 pro mount - unguided, Canon 1100D.
M38 by Bradley Swift, Rochdale, UK. Equipment: Skywatcher 150p Newtonian reflector, HEQ5 pro mount – unguided, Canon 1100D.
NGC 2438 in the Middle of M46 by Kfir Simon, Namibia. Equipment: 16
NGC 2438 in the Middle of M46 by Kfir Simon, Namibia. Equipment: 16″ Dream Scope, 12″ F7.5 LX200, Ha, LRGB.
Messier 46 - a Widefield Image by Kfir Simon, Namibia. Equipment: 16
Messier 46 – a Widefield Image by Kfir Simon, Namibia. Equipment: 16″ Dream Scope, 12″ F7.5 LX200, Ha, LRGB.
M46 and NGC 2438 by Dan Crowson, Animas, New Mexico, USA. Equipment: SBIG STF-8300M, Astro-Tech AT12RCT.
M46 and NGC 2438 by Dan Crowson, Animas, New Mexico, USA. Equipment: SBIG STF-8300M, Astro-Tech AT12RCT.
M47 by Dan Crowson, Animas, New Mexico, USA. Equipment: SBIG STF-8300M, Astro-Tech AT12RCT.
M47 by Dan Crowson, Animas, New Mexico, USA. Equipment: SBIG STF-8300M, Astro-Tech AT12RCT.
M52 by J Robertson by London, UK. Equipment: Celestron Edge HD8, Sony Alpha a3000.
M52 by J Robertson by London, UK. Equipment: Celestron Edge HD8, Sony Alpha a3000.
Messier 67 by Stephen Dean, East Cowes, Isle of Wight, UK. Equipment: Skywatcher 80mm ED, Canon EOS 1100D, Astronomik CLS filter, EQ5 mount, QHY 5 guide, PhD
Messier 67 by Stephen Dean, East Cowes, Isle of Wight, UK. Equipment: Skywatcher 80mm ED, Canon EOS 1100D, Astronomik CLS filter, EQ5 mount, QHY 5 guide, PhD
M67 - Open Cluster in Cancer by Bill McSorley, Leeds, UK. Equipment: SW 150P Newtonian, EQ5 GoTo Mount, QHY8L cooled CCD.
M67 – Open Cluster in Cancer by Bill McSorley, Leeds, UK. Equipment: SW 150P Newtonian, EQ5 GoTo Mount, QHY8L cooled CCD.
M67 - Open Cluster in Cancer by Bill McSorley, Leeds, UK. Equipment: SW 150P Newtonian, EQ5 GoTo Mount, QHY8L OSC cooled CCD.
M67 – Open Cluster in Cancer by Bill McSorley, Leeds, UK. Equipment: SW 150P Newtonian, EQ5 GoTo Mount, QHY8L OSC cooled CCD.
M93 - LRGB by Dan Crowson, Animas, New Mexico, USA. Equipment: SBIG ST-8300M, Astro-Tech AT90EDT
M93 – LRGB by Dan Crowson, Animas, New Mexico, USA. Equipment: SBIG ST-8300M, Astro-Tech AT90EDT
M103 - Open Cluster in Cassiopeia by Bill McSorley, Leeds, UK. Equipment: SW 150P Newtonian, EQ5 GoTo Mount, QHY8L OSC cooled CCD.
M103 – Open Cluster in Cassiopeia by Bill McSorley, Leeds, UK. Equipment: SW 150P Newtonian, EQ5 GoTo Mount, QHY8L OSC cooled CCD.
M103 Open Cluster by Mark Griffith, Swindon, Wiltshire, UK. Equipment: GSO 8
M103 Open Cluster by Mark Griffith, Swindon, Wiltshire, UK. Equipment: GSO 8″ Richey-Chretien Optical tube, Skywatcher NEQ6 pro mount, Atik 383L+ camera, motorised filter wheel and Astronomik LRGB filters.
Messier 103 by Craig Dawes, Staffordshire, UK. Equipment: SW HEQ5 pro, SW ST80, QHY5, SW 100ED DS Pro, Canon 50D (Modded)
Messier 103 by Craig Dawes, Staffordshire, UK. Equipment: SW HEQ5 pro, SW ST80, QHY5, SW 100ED DS Pro, Canon 50D (Modded)
IC 4665 - Open Cluster by Bob Franke, Chino Valley, AZ, USA. Equipment: Takahashi FSQ-106ED, SBIG STF-8300M, Baader RGB filters, Losmandy G11 mount
IC 4665 – Open Cluster by Bob Franke, Chino Valley, AZ, USA. Equipment: Takahashi FSQ-106ED, SBIG STF-8300M, Baader RGB filters, Losmandy G11 mount
Melotte 20 by Philip Pugh, Chippenham, Wiltshire, UK. Equipment: Konica Minolta Dynax 5D, Skywatcher Startravel 80, EQ1 mount, Tripod.
Melotte 20 by Philip Pugh, Chippenham, Wiltshire, UK. Equipment: Konica Minolta Dynax 5D, Skywatcher Startravel 80, EQ1 mount, Tripod.
Hyades by Philip Pugh, Chippenham, UK. Equipment: Konica Minolta Dynax 5D, tripod.
Hyades by Philip Pugh, Chippenham, UK. Equipment: Konica Minolta Dynax 5D, tripod.
NGC206 Open Cluster Andromeda Galaxy by Mark Griffith, Swindon, Wiltshire, UK. Equipment: GSO 8
NGC206 Open Cluster Andromeda Galaxy by Mark Griffith, Swindon, Wiltshire, UK. Equipment: GSO 8″ Richey-Chretien Optical tube, Skywatcher NEQ6 pro mount, Atik 383L+ camera, motorised filter wheel and Astronomik LRGB filters.
Sail Boat Cluster by Jaspal Chadha, UK. Equipment: Skywatcher Esprit 100ed, QSI 690 CCD, iOptron CEM60 mount
Sail Boat Cluster by Jaspal Chadha, UK. Equipment: Skywatcher Esprit 100ed, QSI 690 CCD, iOptron CEM60 mount
NGC 488 by Jaspal Chadha, London, UK. Equipment: Takahashi 130, QSI 690, CEM60 Mount, Astrodon filter LRGB.
NGC 488 by Jaspal Chadha, London, UK. Equipment: Takahashi 130, QSI 690, CEM60 Mount, Astrodon filter LRGB.
NGC 1342 aka Little Scorpion Cluster by Jaspal Chadha, London, UK. Equipment: TAK 130, Ioptron CEM60 Mount, QSI 690 CCD.
NGC 1342 aka Little Scorpion Cluster by Jaspal Chadha, London, UK. Equipment: TAK 130, Ioptron CEM60 Mount, QSI 690 CCD.
NGC 1502 by Jaspal Chadha, London, UK. Equipment: Altair Astro RC 250TT, QHY9s Mono CCD, Chroma LRGB, Iotpron CEM60 mount
NGC 1502 by Jaspal Chadha, London, UK. Equipment: Altair Astro RC 250TT, QHY9s Mono CCD, Chroma LRGB, Iotpron CEM60 mount
Battle of the Clusters by Jaspal Chadha, London, UK. Equipment: Sky watcher Espirt 100ED, QHY9M CCD , LRGB, Ioptron CEM60.
Battle of the Clusters by Jaspal Chadha, London, UK. Equipment: Sky watcher Espirt 100ED, QHY9M CCD , LRGB, Ioptron CEM60.
NGC1647 - Open Cluster in Taurus by Bill McSorley, Leeds, UK. Equipment: SW 150P Newtonian, HEQ5Pro Mount, QHY8L cooled CCD.
NGC1647 – Open Cluster in Taurus by Bill McSorley, Leeds, UK. Equipment: SW 150P Newtonian, HEQ5Pro Mount, QHY8L cooled CCD.
Open Cluster and Nebula in the Constellation Auriga by Stephen D Pastor, Mayhill, NM, USA. Equipment: Takahashi CCA250 f/5 Astrograph,a QSI683wsg CCD, Astrodon Gen 2 filters, Paramount ME.
Open Cluster and Nebula in the Constellation Auriga by Stephen D Pastor, Mayhill, NM, USA. Equipment: Takahashi CCA250 f/5 Astrograph,a QSI683wsg CCD, Astrodon Gen 2 filters, Paramount ME.
NGC 2112 (LRGB) by Dan Crowson, Missouri, USA. Equipment: SBIG ST-8300M, Astro-Tech AT90EDT.
NGC 2112 (LRGB) by Dan Crowson, Missouri, USA. Equipment: SBIG ST-8300M, Astro-Tech AT90EDT.
NGC 2420 by Ron Brecher, Ontario, Canada. Equipment: SBIG STL-11000M camera, Baader RGB filters, 10
NGC 2420 by Ron Brecher, Ontario, Canada. Equipment: SBIG STL-11000M camera, Baader RGB filters, 10″ f/6.8 ASA astrograph, Paramount MX, QHY5 CCD, 80mm f/6 guide scope, FocusMax, TheSkyX.
NGC 2420 by Ron Brecher, Ontario, Canada. Equipment: SBIG STL-11000M camera, Baader RGB filters, 10
NGC 2420 by Ron Brecher, Ontario, Canada. Equipment: SBIG STL-11000M camera, Baader RGB filters, 10″ f/6.8 ASA astrograph, Paramount MX, QHY5 CCD, 80mm f/6 guide scope, FocusMax, TheSkyX.
NGC6604, Open Cluster in Serpens by William McSorley, Leeds, UK. Equipment: SW 150P Reflector, EQ5 GoTo Mount, QHY8L cooled CCD, SW ST80, Philips SPC900 webcam.
NGC6604, Open Cluster in Serpens by William McSorley, Leeds, UK. Equipment: SW 150P Reflector, EQ5 GoTo Mount, QHY8L cooled CCD, SW ST80, Philips SPC900 webcam.
NGC 6604 by Bill McSorley, Leeds, UK. Equipment: SW 150P, EQ5 Mount, QHY8L OSC CCD.
NGC 6604 by Bill McSorley, Leeds, UK. Equipment: SW 150P, EQ5 Mount, QHY8L OSC CCD.
NGC 6791 by Dan Crowson, Animas, New Mexico, USA. Equipment: SBIG STF-8300M, Astro-Tech AT12RCT.
NGC 6791 by Dan Crowson, Animas, New Mexico, USA. Equipment: SBIG STF-8300M, Astro-Tech AT12RCT.
NGC 6791 by Stathis Mexias, Athens, Greece. Equipment: FLT 98, QHY9M.
NGC 6791 by Stathis Mexias, Athens, Greece. Equipment: FLT 98, QHY9M.
NGC6883 & NGC6871 by Bill McSorley, Leeds, UK. Equipment: SkyWatcher 150P Newtonian, HEQ5 Pro Mount, QHY8L cooled CCD.
NGC6883 & NGC6871 by Bill McSorley, Leeds, UK. Equipment: SkyWatcher 150P Newtonian, HEQ5 Pro Mount, QHY8L cooled CCD.
NGC 6910 by Bill McSorley, Leeds, UK. Equipment: SW 150P, EQ5 Mount, QHY8L OSC CCD.
NGC 6910 by Bill McSorley, Leeds, UK. Equipment: SW 150P, EQ5 Mount, QHY8L OSC CCD.
NGC 7039 & NGC 7048 by Dan Crowson, Dardenne Prairie, Missouri, USA. Equipment: SBIG ST-8300M, Astro-Tech AT90DT
NGC 7039 & NGC 7048 by Dan Crowson, Dardenne Prairie, Missouri, USA. Equipment: SBIG ST-8300M, Astro-Tech AT90DT
NGC7062 - Open Cluster in Cygnus by Bill McSorley, Leeds, UK. Equipment: SW 150P Newtonian, EQ5 GoTo Mount, QHY8L OSC cooled CCD.
NGC7062 – Open Cluster in Cygnus by Bill McSorley, Leeds, UK. Equipment: SW 150P Newtonian, EQ5 GoTo Mount, QHY8L OSC cooled CCD.
NGC7062 - Open Cluster in Cygnus by Bill McSorley, Leeds, UK. Equipment: SW 150P Newtonian, EQ5 GoTo Mount, QHY8L OSC cooled CCD.
NGC7062 – Open Cluster in Cygnus by Bill McSorley, Leeds, UK. Equipment: SW 150P Newtonian, EQ5 GoTo Mount, QHY8L OSC cooled CCD.
NGC 7062 by Dan Crowson, Dardenne Prairie, Missouri, USA. Equipment: SBIG ST-8300M, Astro-Tech AT90DT.
NGC 7062 by Dan Crowson, Dardenne Prairie, Missouri, USA. Equipment: SBIG ST-8300M, Astro-Tech AT90DT.
NGC7686 - Open Cluster in Andromeda by Bill McSorley, Leeds, UK. Equipment: SW 150P Newtonian Reflector, QHY8L OSC cooled CCD, EQ5 GoTo Mount
NGC7686 – Open Cluster in Andromeda by Bill McSorley, Leeds, UK. Equipment: SW 150P Newtonian Reflector, QHY8L OSC cooled CCD, EQ5 GoTo Mount
Caldwell 100 by Nick De Villiers, Calitzdorp, South Africa. Equipment: Atik 460EX, 8
Caldwell 100 by Nick De Villiers, Calitzdorp, South Africa. Equipment: Atik 460EX, 8″ RC, CGEM mount Ha, oiii, sii filters.
King 5 by Dan Crowson, Animas, New Mexico, USA. Equipment: SBIG STF-8300M, Astro-Tech AT12RCT
King 5 by Dan Crowson, Animas, New Mexico, USA. Equipment: SBIG STF-8300M, Astro-Tech AT12RCT
King 17 by Dan Crowson, Animas, New Mexico, USA. Equipment: SBIG STF-8300M, Astro-Tech AT12RCT
King 17 by Dan Crowson, Animas, New Mexico, USA. Equipment: SBIG STF-8300M, Astro-Tech AT12RCT
M52, NGC7653 & NGC7538 by Bill McSorley, Leeds, UK. Equipment: SW150P, EQ5 Pro Mount, QHYl cooled ccd.
M52, NGC7653 & NGC7538 by Bill McSorley, Leeds, UK. Equipment: SW150P, EQ5 Pro Mount, QHYl cooled ccd.
Around M11 by Konstantinos Christodoulopoulos, Parnonas Mountain, Greece. Equipment: Canon EOS 450D, Canon EF 200mm f/2.8L lens, Skywatcher HEQ5 Synscan pro, Vixen ED81S, DMK21AU04, PHD guiding
Around M11 by Konstantinos Christodoulopoulos, Parnonas Mountain, Greece. Equipment: Canon EOS 450D, Canon EF 200mm f/2.8L lens, Skywatcher HEQ5 Synscan pro, Vixen ED81S, DMK21AU04, PHD guiding