November 7, 2012

The Beehive Cluster

So, maybe this abstract astronomy art idea I've been exploring recently is turning into something bigger. I finished my second piece this morning after picking away at it for more than 2 weeks. The drawing is loosely based on one of my favorite star clusters--the Beehive, M44, or Praesepe (the manger)--and is done in bic pen, black and red sharpie, and colored pencil on white paper.

A fun fact I learned while preparing this post, is that the Beehive Cluster is Utah's official state astronomical symbol...fairly obvious, I suppose, for "the beehive state, but I had no idea that states even had official astronomical symbols to begin with. I guess not all of them do. Ohio, for instance, has quite a few official symbols: our state beverage is tomato juice, state bird is the cardinal, state bug is the ladybird, state flower is the red carnation (I'm sensing a pattern here), the state rock song (no I'm not making this up), is Hang on Sloopy...and the list goes on...but still no official star or astronomical wonder. Maybe the buckeye state should continue its penchant for red symbols and adopt Antares, or Betelgeuse (both beautiful red supergiants prominent in the northern sky), as its symbol. A ruby-red carbon star might also be nice...or why not just boldly claim all the universe's glowing red hydrogen?

Anyway...I've strayed from my topic...

I haven't seen the Beehive in quite a while. These days it doesn't come up until after midnight (which isn't itself a good excuse, as I could just as easily buck up and pull out the scope before sunrise...except that lately I've been a bit of a lazy bed bug...and its been cloudy here for nearly 2 weeks straight anyway), so my work on this drawing is based entirely on a few online images, and my own memory. I first saw M44 as a new member of the Salt Lake Astronomical Society while volunteering at an elementary school star party. When the constellation Cancer is high in the sky, the Beehive looks to the unaided eye like a hazy little smudge in between two of the crab's central stars, so is super easy for a beginner to find in binoculars or a telescope. The cluster is populated by a bunch of tight little triangles of stars, which to me (after I learned the cluster's name), appeared as little bees swarming around the heavens. 

It is these triangles that have really stuck in my memory. A few months after my initial sighting of the Beehive, I wrote a little trumpet etude whose triangular note patterns mimic the angular sense of fun that I associate with the cluster. I have yet to record it or otherwise share it publicly, and my handwritten copy (pictured on the left), is quite rough and lacks important expressive markings for dynamics and tempo, but it's still a fun and challenging little ditty to play around with. Perhaps as I continue my visual musings on astronomical sights, I'll make further attempts on the musical end as well. Triangles also feature heavily in my new drawing, and I think the two creative experiments make a good pair. 

I want to stress again that my focus with these astronomical abstracts is not necessarily to represent scientific meaning, or achieve perfect visual accuracy (this should be fairly obvious), but rather to portray some sense of the aesthetic and emotional experience I have while participating in amateur astronomy. I love seeing the fine work of dedicated astrophotographers, and (especially now that I have a borrowed Dobsonian to play with...courtesy of my friends at BRAS), I hope to continue practicing more realistic astronomical sketching, but I'm excited by both of these new drawings, and hope I find the inspiration to continue the series. 


  1. Fantastic artwork! Thanks for sharing. It seems like your subject matter makes the possibilities endless. I'm excited to see the next entry in the series!

  2. You are so talented, cousin! I really love the graphic punch of the red & black on white.