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Southern Beehive Cluster

The Sprinter, C96, NGC 2516

The Southern Beehive is one of several clusters and asterisms in the southern sky that have gained the names of counterparts in the northern hemisphere, such as the Southern Pleiades or the Southern Pointers. This cluster in Carina takes its name from its general similarity to the northern Beehive Cluster (also called Praesepe or M44) in the constellation of Cancer.

The two Beehives share some structural similarities. Each occupies a region of space some twelve light years across, and each is dense and populous, possessing about a thousand stars within the cluster. Each is bright enough to be visible to the naked eye, though appearing only as a faint patch of light without telescopic aid. In fact the Southern Beehive is rather more luminous than the northern equivalent, but it is also more than twice as far from the Solar System, and so appears rather fainter in the skies of Earth.

The Southern Beehive's pattern of movement through space is shared by a range of other stars and clusters, including both the northern Pleiades and the Southern Pleiades (though not the northern Beehive). This common motion, in combination with other shared properties, can be taken to imply that these clusters shared an origin in the same ancient star-forming region. This origin was far in the past, and after an estimated hundred million years of travel through the Galaxy, the Southern Beehive and its siblings are now separated from one another by distances of hundreds of light years.

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