Mars and the Beehive

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Mars and the Beehive

If you have a pair of binoculars, this evening is a good time to break them out. They’ll provide an excellent view of Mars passing in front of a star cluster known as the Beehive. They’re quite low in the western sky as night begins to fall, to the upper left of bright Venus, the “evening star.”

The Beehive contains perhaps a thousand stars. They’re packed into a loose ball a couple of dozen light-years in diameter. But the cluster is about 600 light-years away, so to the eye alone it looks like a hazy smudge of light. Binoculars reveal a couple of dozen individual stars.

The Sun probably was born in a cluster, too. Over time, though, clusters lose many of their stars. They’re pulled away by the combined gravity of other stars and gas clouds in the galaxy. So most of a cluster’s original stars soon go their own way — just as the Sun did.

The Sun was born about four and a half billion years ago. So far, no one knows if any of its birth cluster is still around — it could have disappeared a long time ago.

But a study last year suggested that the Sun could have been born in a cluster like the Beehive. Researchers said that such a birthplace would account for some of the traits of the present-day solar system.

We may never know just what the Sun’s birthplace was like. But scanning the Beehive with binoculars could be like looking into the old homestead — a cluster much like the one that gave birth to the Sun.

Script by Damond Benningfield

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