Lovely Coma Berenices

One of the special joys of getting out under a dark rural sky this time of year is seeing the gossamer beauty of the surprisingly expansive star cluster called Melotte 111, also known as the Coma star clusterMel 111 makes up a large part of the constellation Coma Berenices, “Berenice’s Hair”.  This constellation, which entertains the North Galactic Pole as well as a gaggle of galaxies, can be found about midway between Denebola (some call the Coma star cluster the end of the “tail” of Leo the Lion) and Arcturus, as well as midway between Spica and the Big Dipper.  Coma Berenices is transiting the meridian this week as evening twilight ends.  At a distance of just 284 light years, the Coma star cluster is the third nearest star cluster to us, surpassed only by the open cluster remnant Collinder 285—the Ursa Major association (80 ly)—and the Hyades (153 ly).

Faintest Constellations

There are a dozen constellations with no star brighter than +4.0 magnitude.  Many of them are deep in the southern sky.  They are:

ANTLIA, the Air Pump
Brightest Star: Alpha Antliae, apparent visual magnitude +4.25

ANT-lee-uh

CAELUM, the Engraving Tool
Brightest Star: Alpha Caeli, apparent visual magnitude +4.45

SEE-lum

CAMELOPARDALIS, the Giraffe
Brightest Star: Beta Camelopardalis, apparent visual magnitude +4.02

cuh-MEL-oh- PAR-duh-liss

CHAMAELEON, the Chameleon
Brightest Star: Alpha Chamaeleontis, apparent visual magnitude +4.047

cuh-MEAL-yun, or cuh-MEAL-ee-un

COMA BERENICES, Berenice’s Hair
Brightest Star: Beta Comae Berenices, apparent visual magnitude +4.25

COE-muh BER-uh-NICE-eez

CORONA AUSTRALIS, the Southern Crown
Brightest Star: Meridiana, apparent visual magnitude +4.087

cuh-ROE-nuh aw-STRAL-iss

MENSA, the Table Mountain
Brightest Star: Alpha Mensae, apparent visual magnitude +5.09

MEN-suh

MICROSCOPIUM, the Microscope
Brightest Star: Gamma Microscopii, apparent visual magnitude +4.654

my-cruh-SCOPE-ee-um

NORMA, the Carpenter’s Square
Brightest Star: Gamma2 Normae, apparent visual magnitude +4.02

NOR-muh

SCULPTOR, the Sculptor
Brightest Star: Alpha Sculptoris, apparent visual magnitude +4.27

SCULP-ter

SEXTANS, the Sextant
Brightest Star: Alpha Sextantis, apparent visual magnitude +4.49

SEX-tunz

VULPECULA, the Fox
Brightest Star: Anser, apparent visual magnitude +4.45

vul-PECK-yuh-luh