Jupiter splits a double and a cluster

Apr 1

Written by:
4/1/2013 5:49 PM  RssIcon

As Earth speeds ahead of Jupiter on its 12 year orbit around the Sun, the planet works it's way slightly eastward even as Earth's motion pushes the it and Taurus ever westward.  As the giant planet struggles to stay out of twilight in the evening, it is moving between two objects that are worth perusing with a telescope as long as your telescope is already in the area:

The double star Tau Tauri and the open cluster NGC1647.  And look!  All three fit in a binocular field of view for a couple of days this week, ideally on the 3rd and 4th.

NGC1647, Jupiter and Tau Tauri April 3 2013

NGC1647, Jupiter and Tau Tauri in a binocular / finderscope field of view, April 3/4, 2013

Now, Tau Tauri is both easy and incredibly difficult at the same time.  I can predict your "Uh... how's that, Dave?" from here!  Well, it's more than just a simple double star.  It has both a VERY close set of components - a 4.3 magnitude primary star (which is the one you'll be spotting either naked eye or through your finderscope), and an almost-impossibly-close 8.9 magnitude secondary at a mere 0.1 arc seconds away.  But that's WAY too close for our amateur scopes - the aperture required to resolve that is on the order of 50 inches or more.

Not in the realm of possibility for most of us.

But wait!

There's another star nearby, and this one is one we can observe.  At 63 arc seconds from the 4.3 primary is a 7.1 magnitude third star.  10x50 binoculars under perfect seeing conditions may split that, but it's easy in most any amateur telescope.  And Tau Tauri will be all of about 1 degree from Jupiter as the planet moves east on April 3rd and 4th.  So be sure to check out that pair - the graphic below is a representation of what you might see in a telescope at 100x magnificaton - easily accomplished with even 50mm aperture refractors and larger.

There's more though (scroll down).

Graphic view of Tau Tauri at 100x

Tau Tauri at 100x in a 1/2 degree telescopic field of view

NGC1647 is normally a little challenging to find in Taurus.  It's sort of in the middle section between the Hyades and the ends of the horns, so other deep sky objects often get preference - like the Hyades or Crab Nebula (M1).  That said, there's a reason this star cluster gets some overlooking - it's not all that bright, and it's kind of spread out.  The brighter stars in the cluster are in the high 8th / low 9th magnitude range - and they get dimmer from there, down to 10th, 11th and 12th.  So darker skies and/or a moderate to large aperture will be required.  

And keep the magnification low - at 45 are minutes across, this cluster will nearly fill a 1 degree telescopic field of view, so aim for a wider field than that if possible.  At 1800 light years away, it is much further than the Pleiades (450 ly) or Hyades (150 ly).  On the 3rd and 4th of this week, it will be only 3 degrees from Jupiter, directly across the planet from Tau Tauri, making all three of these easy to see mid-week.  But even if you do not get a chance to view them on Wednesday or Thursday, Jupiter will not have moved much  by the weekend.  Just look slightly west of Jupiter then - neither should be too difficult to locate from the planet, and star chart #9 shows the position of NGC1647 on it.

For more information on what you can find and see in the night sky every week, see the homepage of Eyes on the Sky.  Light pollution reduction begins with you, and you can take simple steps to reduce night sky glow without compromising safety.  

While you have a scope out, why not give a look for M44 and M67 in Cancer, or the double star 27 Hya near Alphard in Hydra? 

NGC1647 graphic at 40x and a 1.4 degree field of view 

NGC1647 at 40x in a 1.4 degree (reflector) telescopic field of view.

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The Nightlight

This blog includes what to see in the night and daytime skies, thoughts on telescopes, binoculars, and other astronomy observing accessories and equipment, plus my own occasional notes on objects I've seen and observed. Oh, and the random theater or other "my take on life" post. In other words, there is always something interesting. Check it out.