Just north of the famed Double Cluster in Perseus, you’ll see the little-known star cluster known as Stock 2. Few have noticed this obscure but striking little group, which looks like a headless stick man pulling a string of blue-white stars from the Double Cluster.
I happened upon Stock 2 while looking for Comet Hartley 2 a couple of weeks ago as it passed the Double Cluster. It’s not hard to find, but like most deep-sky objects, it takes a little time to see. Look for an arcing string of stars from the eastern cluster of the Double Cluster. Follow it north about 2 degrees to Stock 2, which looks like an X-shaped group of uniformly bright stars. Look for another minute or two and you’ll see the stick-figure shape emerge.
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I wish I could tell you more about Stock 2, but there is not much published. Although it’s close to the Double Cluster, Stock 2 lies in Cassiopeia. It’s about 1000 light years away. It’s obviously smaller and sparser than the more distant and massive double cluster, with just 10-20 stars visible in binoculars and perhaps 50 stars in a 4-inch telescope. The stars appear uniformly white, so perhaps it’s not a particularly young cluster.
Position of Stock 2 near the Double Cluster (click to enlarge)
Astronomy writer Phil Harrington says Stock 2 is one of his favorite “unsung” deep sky objects. He sees the cluster as a stick man flexing his muscles, and has called Stock 2 the “Muscleman Cluster”. Have a look for yourself, and you’ll find yourself coming back to it again as you scan the magnificent star clusters of Cassiopeia and Perseus high in the northern sky on an autumn night.
Stock 2, along with the Double Cluster, are for observers north of the equator. If you live south of 30 S latitude, they never get above the horizon.
But some good news for you southerners… Comet Hartley is finally rising about your northern horizon and should be visible over the next couple of weeks, especially when the Moon starts waning after October 21. As it passes the Earth this week, the comet is quite diffuse and hard to see in anything but very dark sky. Binoculars or telescope are required.
Here’s a map to help you find it whether you are in the north or south. From October 26-30, the comet passes through the “feet” of Gemini, and right past the lovely open cluster M35.
Path of Comet Hartley 2 through early November (from Sky and Telescope); click to enlarge