See nine unique open clusters in Cassiopeia while barely moving your telescope.
I enjoy manually hunting for deep-sky objects no matter where they are in the sky, from star-starved Camelopardalis to easy-peasy Sagittarius with its fistfuls of guide stars. But given the choice, I'll happily take the path of least resistance. Wouldn't it be nice to just to point your telescope at a cluster or nebula and effortlessly slide to six or seven more with just the push of a finger? Well, you can.
Just 2° northwest of Beta (β) Cassiopeiae stretches a remarkable, compact row of eight small open clusters in the space of 2.5°. While not a geometrically perfect line it's close enough that a simple push takes you from one group to the next. I can easily fit four of these starry splashes in a single 1° field of view. Together they make for a delightful night of observing and a chance to experience the fecundity of the northern Milky Way before winter's cold bite.
I've also included a ninth cluster a short distance off the main trail because it was simply too interesting to pass up. Most of these objects will show well in an 8-inch telescope (and several in smaller instruments) under good skies. I used a 15-inch Dob for my observations. Starting at 2nd-magnitude Caph, I star-hopped to a pair of 6th-magnitude stars, beginning my run at Berkeley 58 and heading northwest. All were visible right off the bat using a magnification of 64×.
Let's dive in!
Berkeley 58 — A moderately rich cluster of mostly 13th-magnitude and fainter stars with an intriguing, misty appearance. It stands out well despite its weakly concentrated core. The group is elongated northeast-southwest with a shape that reminds me of a bouquet of flowers.
NGC 7790 — Beautiful! A small, rich cluster elongated east-west and sparkling with stars of 10th magnitude and fainter. It stands out boldly in the field of view, with its brightest member — tinged faintly red — at the cluster's western edge. A loose collection of more luminous stars dominates the cluster's western half. Fainter, more numerous stars in the eastern half give the object a lopsided appearance. Using averted vision and 142×, I detect short, curved strings of suns within this fainter portion that give it a splashy appearance.
NGC 7788 — A gem you must add to your cluster keepsakes. Despite having a smaller size and lower star count than its neighbor NGC 7790, it's endowed with a larger number of bright members, and they're tightly packed together in the form of a lizard's foot. A 9.2-magnitude star shines close to the cluster's center. Enjoy at low magnification first, then use moderate power to better appreciate the patterned core.
Beyond the NGC
Frolov 1 — A loosely bound group extended north-south. Its brightest members trace a looping figure that resembles a mirror image of the constellation Scorpius. Although star-poor and unconcentrated I can readily distinguish it from random background stars.
Harvard 21 — Sparse and unconcentrated. I see five 12th-magnitude stars arranged in two short arcs along with a smattering of fainter potential cluster members in the vicinity.
King 12 — Gorgeous, compact pile of suns! A tight, equal double star with a separation of ~3″ dominates the cluster's center. A second fainter, close double lies almost due north of this pair — nice surprises bundled inside a pretty parcel. King 12, along with NGC 7788 and NGC 7790, are all close to each other in the sky and have similar young ages. This suggests that they were all born around the same time within the same giant molecular cloud.
King 21 — Two brighter stars (magnitudes 10.8 and 11.7) stand out in the center of a haze of fainter members that resembles a cloud of tiny gnats. The mist easily resolves at 142× into a pretty, rich halo of similar-magnitude stars extended north-south. The 11.7-magnitude star is a close, unequal pair with a separation of ~4″. A lovely object all in all.
Teutsch 23 — This tiny, compact cluster boasts some 10 suns of magnitude 12 and fainter, two of which are neat doubles when viewed at 150× and higher. Neither bright nor rich, its teeny-weeniness makes it stand out just the same. An 8.4-magnitude star shines just 1.6′ south of the object. Teutsch 23 is a recent addition to the Milky Way's family, appearing on a list of likely new open clusters in the early 2000s.
Stock 17 — One of 24 open clusters compiled by Jürgen Stock in the early 1950s. I included this out-of-the-way clutch because of its unique appearance. You'll find it 35′ west of the 5.6-magnitude star 6 Cassiopeiae.
At first you'll see only its brightest member, an 8.5-magnitude star surrounded by a suspicious, grainy glow. But if you increase the magnification to around 200× and use averted vision, a dense sprinkle of fainter stars materializes, huddled close to the luminary. Several of the stars align to create a pair of "arms" extended in welcome.