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Moon Points the Way to Three Star Clusters This Month

While the moon is sometimes a frustrating object for deep-sky-object observers — the light from the surface can wash out faint objects — in November, our celestial neighbor will point the way to three gorgeous star clusters, but you'll need binoculars to see them.

Here are the clusters the moon will be close to in November, according to NASA.

On Sunday (Nov. 5), the moon will glide past the Pleiades, which are sometimes nicknamed the "Seven Sisters" because seven of the stars are reportedly visible with the naked eye. (This depends on how good your eyesight is, of course.) The star cluster has been known since antiquity and resides in the constellation Taurus. It lies about 445 light-years away from Earth and is full of young stars that average only 125 million years old, according to NASA. (By comparison, the sun is more than 4.5 billion years old.) Lately, NASA's planet-hunting Kepler space telescope has been examining the Pleiades to learn more about the clusters' star movements. [Brightest Planets of November's Night Sky ]

Look toward the eastern horizon with binoculars on Sunday evening (Nov. 5) to see the Pleiades star cluster. (Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech)

On Tuesday (Nov. 7), the moon will be close to Messier 35 (or M35). In the 18th century, Charles Messier, a comet hunter who cataloged objects in the sky that could be confused for comets, created a list, now called the Messier list, of 110 objects. Messier first observed M35 on Aug. 30, 1764. The object is roughly 2,850 light-years away from Earth (seven times farther than the Pleiades) and contains a lot more stars than the Pleiades.

Look toward the eastern horizon on Tuesday evening (Nov. 7) to see the star cluster Messier 35, or M35, using binoculars. (Image credit: NASA/)

Then, on Friday (Nov. 10), the moon will pass by the Beehive Cluster (more formally known as M44 and also listed in Messier's catalog). The cluster is also visible to the naked eye and was once thought to be a gassy nebula, until Galileo observed it with a telescope in the 17th century and noticed individual stars. The stars are roughly 400 million years old, and the Beehive is about 580 light-years away from Earth, according to NASA's Astronomy Picture of the Day.

Look toward the eastern horizon on Friday evening (Nov. 10) to see the Beehive star cluster using binoculars. (Image credit: NASA)

To look at the clusters, bring a pair of binoculars or a telescope and give your eyes (and the equipment) at least 20 minutes to adjust to the darkness and cold temperatures. (If it's very cold, your equipment may need even more time; make sure to use a red filter if you must look at something bright, such as your phone, after your eyes have adjusted.) You can also use your naked eye to look at the clusters if you don't have equipment handy, but the objects will appear as faint blobs in the sky. You'll have a better chance of seeing the clusters if you go far from the city and light-polluted areas.

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Elizabeth Howell
Elizabeth Howell is a contributing writer for who is one of the few Canadian journalists to report regularly on space exploration. She is pursuing a Ph.D. part-time in aerospace sciences (University of North Dakota) after completing an M.Sc. (space studies) at the same institution. She also holds a bachelor of journalism degree from Carleton University. Besides writing, Elizabeth teaches communications at the university and community college level. To see her latest projects, follow Elizabeth on Twitter at @HowellSpace.