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False comet, real beauty.

One of the very finest binocular fields in the entire sky is located in Scorpius, just north of the eastern bend in the constellation's "fish hook." There you'll find a trio of interesting sights that, when taken together, form a splendid splash of starlight known as the False Comet. The moment you train your binoculars on this ersatz comet, the illusion is shattered. But that doesn't mean the view is any less splendid -- quite the contrary.

The nucleus of the False Comet is a lovely star triangle consisting of the bright, wide, optical double Zeta ([zeta]) Scorpii (magnitudes 3.6 and 4.8, separated by roughly 6 1/2') and a neighboring 5.8-magnitude star situated due south. Look closely at the Zeta pair. Can you make out any colors? To my eye, the brighter of the two has a lovely, honey-yellow tint, while its companion is a cool white.

Proceeding up the tail of the comet, we come to the pretty, compact open cluster NGC 6231. In my 10x30 image-stabilized binoculars, I can make out a tight quartet of 6th-magnitude stars enmeshed in a compact background haze of faint starlight. My 15x45s double the number of individual stars in the cluster, adding to its sparkly splendor.

A curving row of 6th- and 7th-magnitude stars trails north-northwest from NGC 6231 to the big open cluster Collinder 316, also known as Trumpler 24. Forming the broad end of the comet's tail, Cr 316 is a sparse collection of eight fairly bright stars along with a smattering of fainter glints winking in and out of view in my 10x30s. I can also make out a second clump of stars near the cluster's northeast edge, lending the comet's tail an extra touch of luminance.


To watch a video tutorial on how to use the big sky map on the left, hosted by S&T senior editor Alan MacRobert, visit

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Publication:Sky & Telescope
Article Type:Brief article
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jul 1, 2013
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