NASA Night Sky Notes: Dim Delights In Cancer

Poster’s Note: One of the many under-appreciated aspects of NASA is the extent to which it publishes quality science content for children and Ph.D.’s alike. Your tax dollars help promote science! The following article was provided for reprinting by the Night Sky Network in March, 2020.

By David Prosper

Cancer the Crab is a dim constellation, yet it contains one of the most beautiful and easy-to-spot star clusters in our sky: the Beehive Cluster. Cancer also possesses one of the most studied exoplanets: the superhot super-Earth, 55 Cancri e.

Find Cancer’s dim stars by looking in between the brighter neighboring constellations of Gemini and Leo. Don’t get frustrated if you can’t find it at first, since Cancer isn’t easily visible from moderately light polluted areas. Once you find Cancer, look for its most famous deep-sky object: the Beehive Cluster! It’s a large open cluster of young stars, three times larger than our Moon in the sky. The Beehive is visible to unaided eyes under good sky conditions as a faint cloudy patch, but is stunning when viewed through binoculars or a wide-field telescope. It was one of the earliest deep-sky objects noticed by ancient astronomers, and so the Beehive has many other names, including Praesepe, Nubilum, M44, the Ghost, and Jishi qi. Take a look at it on a clear night through binoculars. Do these stars look like a hive of buzzing bees? Or do you see something else? There’s no wrong answer, since this large star cluster has intrigued imaginative observers for thousands of years.

55 Cancri is a nearby binary star system, about 41 light years from us and faintly visible under excellent dark sky conditions. The larger star is orbited by at least five planets including 55 Cancri e, (a.k.a. Janssen, named after one of the first telescope makers). Janssen is a “super-earth,” a large rocky world 8 times the mass of our Earth, and orbits its star every 18 hours, giving it one of the shortest years of all known planets! Janssen was the first exoplanet to have its atmosphere successfully analyzed. Both the Hubble and recently-retired Spitzer space telescopes confirmed that the hot world is enveloped by an atmosphere of helium and hydrogen with traces of hydrogen cyanide: not a likely place to find life, especially since the surface is probably scorching hot rock. The NASA Exoplanet Catalog has more details about this and many other exoplanets at bit.ly/nasa55cancrie.

How do astronomers find planets around other star systems? The Night Sky Network’s “How We Find Planets” activity helps demonstrate both the transit and wobble methods of exoplanet detection: bit.ly/findplanets. Notably, 55 Cancri e was discovered via the wobble method in 2004, and then the transit method confirmed the planet’s orbital period in 2011!

Want to learn more about exoplanets? Get the latest NASA news about worlds beyond our solar system at nasa.gov.

Artist concept of 55 Cancri e orbiting its nearby host star. Find details from the Spitzer Space Telescope’s close study of its atmosphere at: bit.ly/spitzer55cancrie and the Hubble Space Telescope’s observations at bit.ly/hubble55cancrie Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech
Look for Cancer in between the “Sickle” or “Question Mark” of Leo and the bright twin stars of Gemini. You can’t see the planets around 55 Cancri, but if skies are dark enough you can see the star itself. Can you see the Beehive Cluster?

The Night Sky Network program supports astronomy clubs across the USA dedicated to astronomy outreach. Visit nightsky.jpl.nasa.gov to find local clubs, events, and more!

International Observe The Moon Night Quarterly Newsletter And 2020 Announcement

Greetings, fellow astrophiles!

The IOMN organizers have sent off their first quarterly newsletter for 2020 (reproduced below), including the announcement of the IOMN scheduling for 26 September 2020.

You can download a summary PDF at: INOMN_One_Pager_2019-2020.pdf


Thank you for a RECORD BREAKING 2019!

We are pleased to report that International Observe the Moon Night 2019 broke all previous participation records. We had 1,892 public and private events in 102 countries! There were over 650 events in the United States, which included all 50 states, Guam, Puerto Rico, and the District of Columbia. We estimate that over 255,000 people attended International Observe the Moon Night events!

It is thanks to hosts and participants like YOU that we had such a record breaking year. Thanks for being a part of this global, lunar enthusiast community.

Learn more about the 2019 event.

Save the Date: September 26, 2020

Save the Date postcards for International Observe the Moon Night 2020 are now available. We are hard at work translating the postcard into additional languages, so be sure to check the website periodically.

Learn more about NASA’s Moon to Mars program, how we are working to push the boundaries of science and exploration, and return astronauts to the Moon with the Artemis program. Click on the image above to learn how technicians and engineers are planning to use 3D printed materials to help send cargo to the Moon’s atmosphere with NASA’s Space Launch System.

Join the Conversation

International Observe the Moon Night is a wonderful chance to connect with Moon fans around the world.  Learn updates and connect to fellow lunar enthusiasts around the world by following @NASAMoon on Twitter, visiting the International Observe the Moon Night Facebook page, and catching up on event photos on the 2019 International Observe the Moon Night group on Flickr.

nPAE – Precision Astro Engineering Astrophotography Competition 2020

Greetings, fellow astrophiles – the following made its way into our email inbox recently. For interested parties, details are below:

Northern Hemisphere Objects

For our next competition we are asking you to show us your favourite Northern Hemisphere object. Send us your best astrophotography images for a chance to win £300 (~$400)

1st Prize: £300 or $400 cash
2nd Prize: Theia90 Diagonal
3rd Prize: £50 nPAE discount voucher

The competition is free to enter and open to all budding astro photographers and group entries are also welcome. The closing date for submission is 31st March 2019 with the winner announced May 1st. So get set up, snapping, stacking and processing! Photos can be of any Northern Hemisphere astro object. Participants can enter a maximum of 2 photos and the images must be new, taken specifically for the competition.

Submit your entries by copying and pasting the following information into an email and send it to competition@npae.net

  • Your name
  • Title of your Astro photo
  • Equipment used
  • Imaging Target
  • Digital processing methods employed (if any)
  • I confirm that the submitted image was taken specifically for the purpose of this competition.
  • Delete as appropriate: I consent to nPAE sending me information about future nPAE products and services / I do not consent to nPAE sending me information about future nPAE products and services

The winner will be announced on the 1st May 2019. Full details, terms and conditions can be found here.