"Praesepe" or the “Beehive” star cluster, is sometimes called the Manger. It is one of the largest, nearest, and brightest of the galactic star clusters. It is clearly visible to the unaided eye, and appears as a nebula, but even an opera glass will reveal its stellar nature. The cluster's apparent size is over twice that of the full moon, and thus it needs a low-power telescope and a wide-field eyepiece. Binoculars will also give a very pleasing view.
Ancient Greek astronomers wrote of Praesepe as far back as 300BC. In 130BC Hipparchus included it in his star catalogue as a “cloudy star”. However, it wasn’t until Galileo turned his new telescope on it in 1609, that M-44 was discovered to be a star cluster.
Although it is a galactic, or open cluster, M-44 at 400 million years, is much older than a cluster like the Pleiades. M-44 consists of at least 200 stars, and it’s estimated distance is 600 light years.
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George Normandin, KAS
May 7th, 1998