January- Supernova Remnants and Star Clusters


The Crab Nebula, remnants of a star that exploded only 1,000 years ago. In July of 1054 AD, a bright star appeared in the sky where before there had been none.  Chinese Astronomer/Astrologers carefully recorded it's appearance to the northwest of the 3rd magnitude star known to us as Zeta Tau (marking the eastern horn of Taurus, the Bull).   This star became as bright as magnitude -6 and according the their records was visible during daylight for 23 days, and visible at night for almost two years.

Nearly 700 years after the supernova of 1054, John Bevis of England discovered a faint nebula at the same location in his small telescope.  Later Charles Messier independently discovered this nebula, at first mistaking  it for a comet (the expected return of comet Halley).  It is said that the discovery of this object resulted in his decision to begin his own catalog; the nebula appears as his first entry (Messier 1).  Of course, at that time the supernova of 1054 was unknown to both of these men, largely because no records of the event had survived in Europe.

The remnant of this supernova is visible near the bright star Al Nath in Taurus as a faint, dark gray patch through a small telescope, while larger scopes will show its irregular shape.


Although visible with the naked eye and binoculars, Orion’s showcase nebula is really a must-see  for telescopic observers. Unless your telescope has a short focal length (less than 500 mm), you’ll probably need your lowest-power eyepiece to capture the entire nebula in a single field of view. Be sure to look out for the famous Trapezium star cluster at its center.


M35 is a large open cluster in Gemini with many bright stars.  It is a favorite for small telescopes and is just visible to the unaided eye as a sparkling point of light. It’s possible to glimpse the cluster with the naked eye from a dark location and shows well in telescopes of almost any size,  low magnification of around 40x is all you’ll need to get the best views.  Garrett P. Serviss wrote, "No one can gaze upon this marvelous phenomenon,  and reflect that all these swarming dots of light are really suns, without a stunning sense of the immensity of the material universe."