A mere 600 light-years away,
M44 is one of the closest
star clusters to our solar system.
Also known as the
or the Beehive cluster its stars
are young though, about 600 million years old compared to our Sun's
4.5 billion years.
Based on similar ages and motion through space, M44 and the
even closer Hyades star cluster in Taurus
are thought to have
been born together in the same large molecular cloud.
An open cluster
spanning some 15 light-years, M44 holds 1,000 stars or so
and covers about 3 full moons (1.5 degrees) on the
sky in the constellation Cancer.
Visible to the unaided eye, M44 has been recognized since antiquity.
Described as a faint cloud or celestial mist long before
being included as the 44th entry in Charles Messier's
18th century catalog, the cluster was not resolved into its individual
stars until telescopes were available.
A popular target for modern, binocular-equiped sky gazers,
the cluster's few
yellowish tinted, cool,
red giants are scattered
through the field of its brighter hot blue main sequence
stars in this colorful
stellar group snapshot.