The constellation Auriga is home to three fine open star clusters, which show as glows in binoculars and small splashes of stardust in a small telescope.

Open star cluster M38
Open cluster M38. NOAO/ AURA/NSF

M36 is the first of these three, and can be found five degrees southwest of Theta Aurigae. The cluster contains some 60 member stars of magnitudes between 9 and 14 and is 4,100 light years distant. If you look carefully, you will notice that several of its brightest stars are arranged in roughly parallel rows.

M37 is nearly 4 degrees east-southeast of M36. It is an easy and rewarding object for small telescopes or binoculars, and appears as a rich, somewhat triunghiular grouping of closely packed together stars. Look for a bright, orange star near the center.

Shift almost 2 degrees northwest of M36 and you will sweep into a big, bright showpiece of an open cluster. M38 is a scattered group of irregular form, composed of some 100 stars about magnitude 10 and fainter. The full diameter of the cluster is about 20 arcminutes, and is best seen at medium magnifications.

Finder map – field width 15 degrees, stars to magnitude 8.5.