Messier 36 or M36 (also designated NGC 1960) is an open cluster in the constellation Auriga. It has an apparent visual magnitude of 6.3 and its angular diameter is 12 arc-minutes. M36 lies at an estimated distance of 4100 light years. The Equinox 2000 coordinates are RA= 5h 36.1m, Dec= +34° 08´ which makes M36 best seen during the winter. The Messier Winter Star Chart shows the position of all Messier objects visible during that season.

The image above shows the uncropped view of M36 through the Takahashi E-180 Astrograph (North is up). About one degree west of M38 lies the diffuse nebula NGC 1931. A 2x enlargement of this image centered on M36 appears to the right.

In spite of its inclusion in the Messier Catalog, this open cluster was actually discovered by G. B. Hodierna in 1654. Along with M37 and M38, it forms a trio of open clusters in Auriga. According to Kharchenko et al. (2005), the distance of M36 is 4300 light years and its diameter is 15 light years. It contains 178 stars and its estimated age is 20-40 million years.

For more information, see the Messier Catalog as well as specific entries for M36 in Wikipedia and SEDS.

Messier's Description of M36

September 2, 1764
`Cluster of stars in Auriga, near the star Phi: with an simple refractor of 3.5 feet one has pain to distinguish the stars, the cluster contains no nebulosity. Its position determined from Phi [Aurigae].' (diam. 9')

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