On Saturday (September 24) and the surrounding days, Mars will be visible through the Taurus star cluster, dubbed NGC1746 by astronomers.
Looking at Mars’ closest approach, the stars of NGC 1746 become a thumb-width loose star “glob” to the upper left of Mars. After Saturday, Mars will move left in its orbit below her NGC1746.
NGC1746 has a visual magnitude of 6.1, making it easy to spot with binoculars. Mars brightens in September, reaching magnitude -0.59 (the minus sign indicates a very bright object). This means that you can see it with binoculars when it is closest to the cluster. The two are close enough to see each other through telescopes on Saturday.
The cluster is visible in the morning sky over New York, reaching an altitude of 72° from the southern horizon. (A fist at arm’s length is about 10 degrees.) Wider than the full moon in the sky, NGC1746 disappears around 5:37 AM EDT (0937 GMT) when dawn begins.
Asterisms, similar to the constellation classification system, are loose clusters of stars linked only by their position in the night sky on Earth. This means that some stars in asterism may be close in space, while others only appear close from our perspective on Earth.
The nature of his NGC1746, some 2,500 light-years from Earth, is disputed and was first described by German astronomer Heinrich Louis d’Arrest in 1863 and included in the New General Catalog of Astronomy, or NGC. For many years it was considered an open cluster. Open clusters are clusters of thousands of stars that form when close patches of the same molecular cloud of cold gas undergo gravitational collapse.
However, many astronomers suspect that NGC1746 is in fact a chance meeting of unrelated stars of different origin against a dense background star field, so there are doubts as to whether this is the case. If correct, this means that NGC1746 is a type of astronomical object called asterism.
Some macroscopic asterisms are small and very simple, while others are much larger and more complex. Perhaps the most famous example of asterism is the Big Dipper, made up of the seven brightest stars in the constellation Ursa Major.
After a close encounter with NGC1746, Mars will make its closest approach to Earth on her December 1, 2022, and astronomers should be able to distinguish some of its dark surface features. Whether you’re new to the sky or a seasoned veteran, don’t miss our guide to the best binoculars and telescopes for finding Mars, star clusters, and other objects in the night sky. Check out our guide to shooting the moon for more information, as well as our suggestions for the best cameras for astrophotography and best lenses for astrophotography.
- On Saturday, Mars will transit an asterism in the constellation Taurus.
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