M41 is a stunning, large bright open cluster located in the constellation of Canis Major. Of the many clusters in Canis Major, it's the stand out object and the constellation's only Messier object, but easy to find since it's positioned just four degrees south of Sirius. With an apparent mag. of +4.5, the cluster is visible to the naked eye and a rewarding sight when viewed through all types of optical instruments. It covers 39 arc minutes of apparent sky.

M41 was discovered by Giovanni Batista Hodierna sometime before 1654, although it was probably known to Aristotle as far back as 325 BC. If true, this would make it the faintest object recorded in classical antiquity, but caution prevails as Aristotle may have described a nearby part of the Milky Way instead. The cluster was catalogued by Charles Messier on January 16, 1765 and is best seen during the months of December, January and February from the tropics and Southern Hemisphere.

M41 Open Cluster (credit:- NOAO/AURA/NSF)

Finder Chart for M41 (credit:- freestarcharts)

Finder Chart for M41 - pdf format (credit:- freestarcharts)

Finder Chart for M79 (also shown M41) (credit:- freestarcharts)

Finder Chart for M79 (also shown M41) - pdf format (credit:- freestarcharts)

Appearing to the naked eye as a cloud like smudge, M41 is easily found with binoculars. In 10x50s, it appears as a large hazy blur with at least half a dozen stars resolvable. Larger 20x80 binoculars reveal many more stars spread across an almost circular shape. Through a small 100mm (4-inch) telescope at low magnifications, M41 is a beautiful sight with 50 or more stars visible against a mottled background. The stars appear to stream outwards from the centre of the cluster. A 150mm (6-inch) to 200mm (8-inch) scope reveals a loosely scattered multi-coloured cluster with many additional fainter members visible. Most of the stars appear white, but there are a few notable exceptions. These include a pair of bright yellow stars at the heart of the cluster with several red (or orange) giant stars interspersed. At high magnifications, M41 looks less cluster like, but the individual star colours are more intense.

M41 is estimated to be about 215 Million years old and is located 2,300 light-years from Earth. At the southeast edge of the cluster is 12 Canis Majoris, a blue-white B-type giant star with a mag. of +6.1. At only 668 light-years distant, this star is much closer to Earth and hence an interloper and not a true cluster member.

In total, M41 spans an area greater than that of the full Moon and contains about 100 stars with the brightest being of mag. +6.9. It's superb cluster, visible to the naked eye and and a wonderful sight in binoculars and telescopes.

M41 Data Table

Messier41
NGC2287
Object TypeOpen Cluster
ConstellationCanis Major
Distance (light-years)2,300
Apparent Mag.+4.5
RA (J2000)06h 46m 00s
DEC (J2000)-20d 45m 15s
Apparent Size (arc mins)39 x 39
Radius (light-years)12.5
Age (years)215 Million
Number of Stars100
Other NameCollinder 118

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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