Most of us probably learned to recognize the Summer Triangle early on in our
astronomical careers. But how about the Winter Triangle?
The Winter Triangle is drawn from three of winter's brightest
Betelgeuse, Sirius, and Procyon. While
they blaze on clear winter nights, they frame a surprisingly barren
part of the
February sky. This vast empty region is labeled as Monoceros
the Unicorn on many sky maps, although I doubt that many of us are able
such a whimsical creature among the dim stars.
Above: Winter star map from Star
by Phil Harrington.
Finder chart for this month's Binocular Universe.
adapted from Touring
Binoculars Atlas (TUBA)
Monoceros may not hold
much for constellation watchers, but it overflows with
open star clusters for us binocularists. Despite
the fact that many are visible in binoculars, only one found its way
Charles Messier's eyepiece field. That's
our first target, M50.
Even though it lies in the middle of nowhere, M50 is
surprisingly easy to
find. Begin at Sirius
and slowly scan northeastward toward Procyon. Stop a little less than
along and look for a tiny blur of starlight punctuated by possibly one
dim points. That's M50. The
star, lying just south of center, shines at 8th magnitude and may
golden through 80-mm and larger binoculars.
we leave M50, try your luck with Pakan's
3, a fun asterism first spotted by amateur Randy Pakan
on your binoculars, it might be in the same field as M50, since both
are only separated by only 3 degrees. Put
M50 in the northeastern part of your view, and then look to the
southwest for a
collection of faint stars that together form the number 3. The
figure covers an area equal to that of the Full Moon, so it's large
enough to be
pretty obvious through binoculars. But
since none of the stars shine brighter than 8th magnitude, moonlight as
light pollution could play havoc. Wait
for that special, dark February night to try your luck.
stakes and continue on your way toward Procyon.
Before you reach it, you'll first bump into Delta Monocerotis.
Binoculars easily show that 4th-magnitude Delta is accompanied by
21 Mon just to its northwest. They make a pretty, if not
faux, double star.
Delta and 21 toward the eastern limit of your field of view and then
the western edge. Can you just make out a half dozen or so faint points
in an undulating north-south procession? If so, you've spotted NGC
2301, one of my favorite little "unknown" clusters. My 10x50
binoculars show those half dozen stars and a slight background glow
cluster suns, while my 16x70s further resolve that glow into a
string of 8th- and 9th-magnitude stars marked at mid-span by a hazy
clump of many stars that remain too faint to resolve.
In my book Touring the Universe through Binoculars
Wiley & Sons), I call this the "Great Bird of the Galaxy" Cluster.
The "bird's" two wings are represented by the string of stars
extending from the three-sided body. Can
you see it, too? Or am I crazy??
Open cluster NGC 2301
as portrayed through the author's 16x70 binoculars.
The "Great Bird's" wings extend
north and south of the hazy triangular body.
Delta, shift 12 degrees
southwestward toward Beta and Gamma Monocerotis.
Nearby, you'll find NGC 2232.
cluster contains 5th-magnitude 10
Monocerotis as well as many fainter stars. My
10x50 binoculars display the remaining stars, which range between 8th
magnitudes, as lying in a curved cone-shaped pattern that opens toward
southeast. With an apparent diameter
nearly equal to that of the Full Moon, NGC 2232 is actually better
through giant binoculars than through most telescopes.
At least, that's my opinion.
bumped into this next little asterism more than 20 years ago as I was
researching Touring the Universe through Binoculars.
I simply listed it in the book as "Harrington 5" (Hrr 5 on the
chart here), being the fifth entry in a compilation of a dozen
described in that book. Later, I
came to think of it as the "Unicorn's Horn," given its constellation.
Call it what you wish, this V-shaped group is composed of six
stars of 9th and 10th magnitude. Due
both their dimness as well as the compact size of the "horn," 11x is
probably the lowest power that will show the pattern well.
It's nearly centered on the finder chart above.
a list of many more targets within the Winter Triangle.
Give each a go and see just how many you can find this month!
And be sure to post your results in this column's discussion
Next month, spring is in the air -- well, almost.
Until we meet again under the stars, here's hoping that you can
those binoculars and get in some quality star time this month.
And of course, remember that two eyes are better than one.
About the Author:
Harrington has written 9 books on astronomy, including Star Ware,
Watch, and his latest, Cosmic Challenge. Visit his
web site, www.philharrington.net,
copyright 2013 by Philip S. Harrington. All
rights reserved. No
reproduction, in whole or in part, beyond single copies for use by an
individual, is permitted without written permission of the copyright