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Re: Coathanger Constelation

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Posted by Kip Crawford on November 14, 1999 06:28:14 UTC

Here you go. The Coat Hanger Cluster will be a little hard to track. It is in the western sky in the early evening. By 11 or 12 it's gone. This is a summer view. Not a constellation though. Sometimes Leo is mistaken as a coat hanger.

One of the most prominent features of the summer night sky is a pattern of three bright stars called the Summer Triangle. Deneb, in the constellation Cygnus, forms the triangle's northeastern point. Vega, in Lyra, the harp, is in the northwest. And Altair, in Aquila, the eagle, is the southern point. The triangle is high in the east at sunset right now, and stands overhead around midnight.

There's a lot to look at inside the triangle. Not far from Altair, for example, there's a small group of stars nicknamed the Coat Hanger Cluster. Binoculars quickly reveal how the cluster got its name. Six stars form a straight line the hanger's cross bar while four others curl away from the bar to form the hook.

Clusters like the Coat Hanger are families of stars. The stars all formed at the same time, from the same stellar "nursery" a cloud of gas and dust. They also move through space as a single unit, bound by their mutual gravitational pull. Many clusters don't have enough stars to stay together forever. Their gravitational grip is fairly weak, so eventually the stars will all go their own ways.

To look at this stellar family, first draw a line between Altair and Vega. With binoculars, sweep northward along this line from Altair toward Vega. The Coat Hanger Cluster lies directly on the line, about a third of the way up from Altair

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