M34 is a fine large loose open cluster located in the constellation of Perseus. At magnitude +5.5, it's visible as a faint smudge to the naked eye (from a reasonably dark site) and is easily identifiable with binoculars, where the brightest members are resolvable. A small telescope reveals up to 20 bright stars embedded in nebulosity with about 80 members visible in large amateur scopes.

M34 was probably discovered by Giovanni Batista Hodierna sometime before 1654. Charles Messier rediscovered it on August 25, 1764. He then included it in his catalogue describing it as, "A cluster of small stars a little below the parallel of γ (gamma) And. In an ordinary telescope of 3 feet one can distinguish the stars". M34 along with Little Dumbbell Nebula (M76) are the only Messier objects in Perseus. Finding this open cluster is easy. It's positioned on the western side of Perseus next to the Andromeda boundary and only 5 degrees northwest of famous eclipsing binary star, Algol. M34 lies about halfway along a line connecting Algol with beautiful telescopic multiple star, Almach.

M34 Open Cluster (credit:- ESO)

Finder Chart for M34 (credit:- freestarcharts)

Finder Chart for M34 - pdf format (credit:- freestarcharts)

As previously mentioned, M34 is faintly visible to the naked eye and a fine binocular object. It's a large cluster that covers 35 arc minutes of apparent sky, which is more than that of the full Moon. When viewed through a small 80mm (3.1-inch) telescope, the brighter stars of the cluster appear prominent with many fainter members also visible especially when using averted vision. At low powers, the cluster nicely fills a good portion of the eyepiece field of view. Towards the center are a couple of double stars. Through a 150mm (6-inch) or 200mm (8-inch) scope, dozens of stars are revealed and the loose scattered look of the cluster is pronounced. The bright stars towards the centre of the group form three arms that radiate outwards in a distinct "Y" or "V" shape.

M34 is about 200 Million years old, which is much older than the two components of the Double Cluster in Perseus (NGC 869 and NGC 884 - 5.6 and 3.2 million years old respectively), the famous Pleiades (M45) cluster (115 million years old) but younger than the Hyades cluster (625 million years old).

The cluster contains up to 400 stars of which at least 19 members have been identified as white dwarfs. It's best seen from the Northern Hemisphere during October, November and December.

M34 Data Table

Messier34
NGC1039
Object TypeOpen cluster
ConstellationPerseus
Distance (light-years)1,500
Apparent Mag.+5.5
RA (J2000)02h 42m 07s
DEC (J2000)+42d 44m 46s
Apparent Size (arc mins)35 x 35
Radius (light-years)7.5
Age (years)200 Million
Number of Stars>80
Other NameCollinder 31

Sky Highlights - March 2017

Comet
Comet 41P/Tuttle-Giacobini-Kresak now visible with binoculars as it heads towards perihelion

Mercury
Mercury heading towards greatest elongation east

Minor Planet
Vesta now visible with binoculars and small telescopes.

The Planets
This Month's Guide

Algol Minima
Algol eclipse dates and times for March 2017

Northern Hemisphere
Evening
West:- Venus (mag. -4.8 to -4.1 - first half of month), Mars (mag. +1.3 to +1.5), Uranus (mag. +5.9), Mercury (mag. -1.5 to -0.4 - second half of month)
Midnight
Southeast:- Jupiter (mag. -2.3 to -2.5)
Morning
Southwest:- Jupiter
Southeast:- Saturn (mag. +0.5)

Southern Hemisphere
Evening
West:- Venus (first half of month), Mars, Uranus
Midnight
North:- Jupiter
East:- Saturn
Morning
West:- Jupiter
Northeast:- Saturn
East:- Neptune (mag. +8.0 - second half of month)

Deep Sky
Naked eye / binoculars:-
Melotte 111 - Mel 111 - The Coma Star Cluster (Open Cluster)
Messier 44 - M44 - The Praesepe (Open Cluster)

Telescopes:-
Messier 67 - M67 - Open Cluster
Messier 51 - M51 - The Whirlpool Galaxy (Spiral Galaxy)
Messier 97 - M97 - The Owl Nebula (Planetary Nebula)
Messier 101 - M101 - The Pinwheel Galaxy (Spiral Galaxy)
Messier 65 – M65 – Spiral Galaxy
Messier 66 - M66 - Intermediate Spiral Galaxy
Messier 95 - M95 - Barred Spiral Galaxy
Messier 96 - M96 - Intermediate Spiral Galaxy
NGC 4244 - Spiral Galaxy
NGC 4565 - Needle Galaxy - Spiral Galaxy

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