Messier of the Month - April 2020

Original article appears in GuideStar April, 2020.

Messier of the Month

April 2020

Jim King

This is the second installment of a series of columns primarily revolving around observing the Messier Catalogue.  The intent is to provide the reader a small sampling of the Messier objects that are most visible in the time frame the column is published.  Hence, these deep sky objects should be easily identifiable in and around the month of April.  Some months, like April, may have a special treat in addition to the Messier Objects.  Check the trailer.


M45: The Pleiades. Open cluster. The Ladies come to dance! Venus, our brightest planet and M45, the Seven Sisters, will come together the evening of April 3rd for a spectacular conjunction visible just about everywhere.

Conjunctions of the planet and the cluster are not terribly unusual; but Venus having a stroll through this gaggle of stars, gas and dust should make for interesting observation and photography opportunities.

Clouds have a way messing up a perfectly good conjunction.  In this case, the event will occur from March 31st through April 6th giving multiple opportunities to find a “sweet spot”.

On March 28th, the young waxing crescent Moon provides an additional dance partner, so have your cameras ready.

Data:                     Messier 45, aka The Pleiades, aka The Seven Sisters, NGC (not listed)

                                Con: Taurus                                        Mag: 1.5

                                RA: 03.47.5                                          Dec: +24.06

                                Dist: 440 ly

                                Opt view (for the conjunction): April 3rd, 9:00 pm +-


M35: Gemini Open Cluster.   Observed August 30, 1764, is a cA picture containing rainDescription automatically generatedluster of faint stars located close to the left foot of Castor, the western twin of Gemini.  The cluster is a large, very rich, fairly compressed group of 9th to 16th magnitude stars.  It was described by the 19th century amateur astronomer William Lassell as, “A marvelously striking object: no one can see it for the first time without exclamation!” (Use your imagination:  Holy Moley!....Good Grief!....Holy (fill in the blank!)...Hey Martha! Lookee here!...and so forth ad nauseum.)

Recent observations have identified 250 single and 100 binary stars as confirmed members.  Other studies have revealed 14 white dwarf stars, 15 variable star candidates, and 51 x-ray sources.  A veritable star soup for your enjoyment!

Data:                     Messier 35 AKA: NGC2168

                                Con: Gemini                                                       Mag: 5.1

                                RA: 06.09.0                                                          Dec: +24.21

                                Dist: 2,500 ly                                                      Diam: 25’





M50: Monoceros Open Cluster.  “An obscure open cluster in an obscure constellation”.  (Stephen James O’Meara) A rich, young cluster, M50 lies in the region of the stellar association CMa OB1, though apparently, they are not physically connected.  The cluster contains about 2,100 stars brighter than magnitude 23 (many 12th to 16th mag) and spans about 14 light years.  This one is tough to locate due to interference from that pesky ole Milky Way acting as a backdrop.

Data:                     Messier 50 AKA NGC 2323

                                Con: Monoceros                                              Mag: 5.9A picture containing rainDescription automatically generated

                                RA: 07.02.8                                                          Dec: -08.23

                                Dist: 3,300 ly                                                      Diam: 15’



April Bonus Object: 

Listen up boys and girls, if you are a true astro-nerd, maybe I can take your minds off that darned corona bug for a little while.  We have a bona fide, truly exciting comet on its way here.  Its nomenclature is Comet C/2019 Y4 Atlas and it is currently (03.18.20) in the constellation Ursa Major, very near the asterism commonly known as the Big Dipper, just outside the “dipper”.  It is headed our way, but it will not be a Near Earth Object (NEO).  This comet drops by every 5,475 years.  Some of you might miss the next visit.

It is brightening rapidly and currently brighter than 8th magnitude, which means it will be visible to good, astronomy binoculars or a decent medium-sized telescope 6-8 inches or larger.  It is getting brighter geometrically and should soon (in the next month or so) become visible without the use of visual aids, aka, naked eye.  Some astronomers are predicting it to be as bright as Venus is right now, with a pronounced coma.

If one can get a good Moonless, cloudless night it should be spectacular even from moderately light polluted skies.  It is well-placed for us to observed for an extended period.

Keep Looking up!!

Jim King

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