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Deepsky Top-100 (4): M67

When observing from a light polluted backyard, the area between Leo and Canis Minor seems to be “empty”. Only one or two stars are visible. In this area you will find the spring constellation Cancer, which is build up out of 4th and 5th magnitude stars. However, in this seemingly barren region lie two beautiful star clusters for you to observe, M 44 and M 67.

M 44, also known as the Beehive or Praesepe, is more than 1.5 degrees in diameter. It is a binocular object, and will be discussed in a separate article. But you can use M44 to find M67. Use binoculars or your finder scope to locate M44, just by scanning the area between Leo, Gemini and Canis Major. You cannot miss this big bright (visual magnitude 3.1) open cluster. Even under light polluted skies it is possible to spot it with your naked eyes, using averted vision. Once you found M44, you will notice that to the north and south of it, two brighter stars can be seen. Centre your field of view on the star to the south of M 44. From there move 8 degrees in south-southeastern direction. You will find another bright star, Alpha Cancri (or Acubens). M67 lies only 1.5 degrees to the west. It will show up in your binoculars (or finder scope) as a faint smudge of light. The exact coordinates of M 67 are: RA 08h51m24s and DEC +11°49’ (epoch 2000).


Finder chart for M 67. Limiting magnitude 6.5. Credit and copyright SkyTools 2 by Capellasoft

Click here to download a printable finder chart (PDF)

Most open clusters are relatively young, 1 billion years or younger, and are distributed along or near the galactic plane, in the spiral arms of our galaxy. M67’s age however is about 5 billion years, making it as old as our solar system. In fact it is one of the oldest open clusters known. M 67 is located 1500 light years away from the galactic plane, at a distance of 2.600 light years. The visual magnitude of M 67 is 6.9 and its diameter is 25’. There are about 300 stars, and the brightest star is of magnitude 9.0. From a light polluted backyard, with an 8-inch telescope you probably can observe around fifty stars up to the 12th magnitude. Here is an eyepiece impression of M67:


Eyepiece impression of M67. Limiting magnitude 12.5. South is up, east is to the left. The red circle represents a field of view of 46'.
Credit and copyright SkyTools 2 by Capellasoft

There are several chains and clumps of stars, as well as some dark lanes. To the northeastern edge lies a 7.5 magnitude star. I could detect several different patterns formed by the stars in the cluster. Just a little of the centre was a cross like form, also detected by one of my fellow observers. I will try to add a sketch of the cluster in the near future.

For more information, pictures and historic observing reports on M67 please follow this link to SEDS, The Messier Catalog. For more observing reports follow this link to NetAstro Catalog.

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