IC 2602 is a prominent open cluster in the southern constellation of Carina that was discovered by Abbe Lacaille in 1751 from South Africa. It contains about 60 stars spread across 50 arc minutes and is easily visible to the naked eye. The brightest member is blue-white Theta Carinae (θ Car) which shines at mag. +2.74. Of the remaining constituents all are of fifth magnitude or fainter. When seen through binoculars and small scopes, IC 2602 is a stunning object and a superb example of its type.
IC 2602 is one of the brightest and closest open clusters to the Solar System. It's known as the "Theta Carinae Cluster" or "Southern Pleiades" and has a combined magnitude of +1.9. For comparison, IC 2602 is 70% fainter and about half the apparent size of its northern namesake, M45 "The Pleiades".
Through popular 7x50 or 10x50 binoculars this dazzling cluster appears bright and large. The standout star is of course θ Car which is located towards the centre of the group, surrounded by dozens of fainter stars. The brightest members trace out a hat or rectangular type shape. The cluster is superbly seen in small / medium scopes especially at low powers where it fills the eyepiece view with many mostly blue-white stars. In larger scopes some of the awe is lost as it tends to overflow the field of view.
The Southern Pleiades is estimated to be 50 million years old with a spatial diameter of about 7 light-years. It's estimated to be 480 light-years distant. Only the Hyades cluster (153 light-years), the Coma cluster (280 light-years) and M45 (425 light-years) are nearer to us. IC 2602 is best seen from southern latitudes during the months of February, March and April. For observers living north of latitude +26 degrees it never rises above the horizon.
IC 2602 Data Table
|Object Type||Open Cluster|
|RA (J2000)||10h 42m 58s|
|DEC (J2000)||-64d 23m 50s|
|Apparent Size (arc mins)||50|
|Age (years)||50 Million|
|Number of Stars||60|
|Other Names||Theta Carinae Cluster, Collinder 229|