Gemini the Twins seem to be kicking star dust as they promenade across the sky. The “star dust” is actually a pretty open star cluster which is a joy to see in binoculars, and known as “M35.”

Gemini the Twins seem to be kicking star dust as they promenade across the sky. The “star dust” is actually a pretty open star cluster which is a joy to see in binoculars, and known as “M35.”

The constellation of Gemini stands high in the southern sky between 8 and 9 p.m., in late February. Look to the upper left of the famed constellation Orion, and straight up from the brightest star of the night, Sirius.

As seen in the southern sky, immediately below Gemini is the small constellation Canid Minor the Little Dog, which has bright yellow star, Procyon.

Gemini’s stars are often connected to make two stick figures, hand in hand. The constellation’s two brightest stars, Castor and Pollux, are at far left (the eastern end) and mark the heads of the twin stick figures. The feet are imagined from the stars at the right (west end).

The pattern, therefore, goes “feet first” across the sky as the stars rise in the eastern sky and pass into the western sky.

According to an ancient Roman myth, Castor and Pollux were the sons of Jupiter and Leda. One story handed down says that the Twins were part of the adventurous band known as the “Argonauts,” that sailed with Jason to secure the Golden Fleece.

The Arabs regarded the two brightest stars the two Peacocks. The ancient Egyptians imagined them as Sprouting Plants. The Hindus said they were “twin Deities.”

The story about the Twins kicking the star cluster is one I just made up. It won’t last nearly as long.

M35 is the 35th entry in a catalog of deep sky objects listed by the French astronomer Charles Messier, in the late 1700s.

From a dark, rural location, the cluster appears to the unaided eyes as a small, faint patch. A good pair of binoculars will start to reveal it for what it is, an association of faint stars, bound by gravity as well as brotherhood, I’d like to think. Star clusters travel the galaxy together.

M35 covers an area about a half degree wide, almost the apparent width of the full Moon. Yet the cluster is an outstanding 3,870 light years away. M35 is way in the background from the brighter stars of Gemini.

M35 is around 22 light years across - that’s how many years it takes for starlight to travel from one side to reach the other. There are over 400 stars in the cluster.

A 6” telescope will show a star cluster next to M35, much smaller and fainter, and much more distant. The cluster seems to burst with stars when seen through even a small telescope, with a low power eyepiece.

Pollux is the lower and brighter of the two “head” stars. This orange-hued star is 34 light years away. Pollux shines at magnitude +1.1.

Castor is a “sextuple” star system, with three sets of binary (double) stars. Castor appears as a single blue-white star to the naked eye, and is 52 light years away. A small telescope will split Castor into its two brightest stars. Castor is of magnitude +1.6.

One of the strongest meteor showers of the year, the Gemini’s, appear to radiate from this constellation in mid-December. This is only by chance as the meteor stream, orbiting our Sun, has nothing to do with the stars of Gemini.

Last quarter Moon is on February 26.

Keep looking up!

Peter Becker is Managing Editor at The News Eagle in Hawley, PA. Notes are welcome at news@neagle.com. Please mention in what newspaper or web site you read this column.