Saturday 23 January 2016


Charles Messier's 37th object is the brightest stellar cluster of the constellation of Auriga, already visible to the naked eye under a really dark sky. The odd thing about it is that it's a fairly old cluster (age estimated from 400 to 550 million years) but that it's still incredibly rich and compact. In fact, it contains roughly 500 members of which there are at least a dozen red giant stars (one of them really stands out and is clearly visible on my sketch) and that is quite exceptional for such a cluster. Then again, it lies at a distance of 4.500 lightyears in exactly the opposite direction from the centre of our galaxy, around which it orbits with a period of 219 million years. 

As I told you before, these rich open clusters are probably the biggest challenge for us, astronomical sketchers, simply because there are so many stars to draw that they'll push your patience and perseverance to the limit. Many fellow sketchers therefore give up, only draw the most important stars and then fill out the rest with a large number of random dots. But having been a contrarian all of my life, I didn't want to give up so easily and I can assure you that every single star on this drawing was in fact observed and confirmed with my own eyes before entrusting it to paper. How long did it take to finish the sketch? I guess about 2 or 2,5 hours. Plus twice as much behind the computer because the digital elaboration of my observations is in fact the most important part of my work. 

In the end I'm quite pleased with the result but now I wish I had made the cluster a tad brighter and had enhanced the red colour of its big central star a bit more. But hey... I'm not perfect. I'm sure that after seeing this many of you'll want to grab their binoculars or telescopes to discover, or rediscover, this stunning cluster next time the sky's clear. And then I'll be happy and consider that I've succeeded in my mission, i.e. to increase everyone's appetite to take a better look at the heavens.

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