M38 - The Starfish Cluster

Updated: Jan 13, 2020

Messier 38 is an open cluster of stars located 4,200 light-years away in the constellation Auriga.

M38 lies very close to two other open clusters, Messier 36 and Messier 37. At a magnitude of 7.4, It can be spotted with binoculars or any small telescope although it is the faintest of the three objects.

Messier 38 is also known as the "Starfish Cluster" as it may look like a starfish when photographed. It is a little bit difficult to make out, but it indeed makes sense.

We imaged M38 as a secondary target after having spent three hours photographing the Crescent Nebula. The moon was up and we decided to stop our imaging workflow on the Crescent and grab a small star cluster before packing up and going home.

We only spent one hour on this target, as we didn't want to image for too long after the moon was up. Below you can see our result!

Messier 38 with the ASI 1600MM


Camera: ZWO ASI 1600mm Pro Mono

Telescope: Orion 8" Astrograph f/3.9

Mount: Atlas EQ-G motorized Mount

Guiding: ZWO ASI 290MM Mini

Acquisition: ZWO ASIAIR

Power: Pegasus Astro Pocket Powerbox

Processing: Pixinsight


Total Exposure Time: 1 hour

Exposure Time per frame: 30 seconds

Filters: L (30 minutes) / R (10 minutes) / G (10 minutes) / B (10 minutes)

Gain: 75

Locating Messier 38

Messier 38 is found in the constellation Auriga, very close to the bright star Capella. Scanning the area south of Capella with binoculars is a good idea as you are very likely to stumble upon the cluster, or its two neighbors, M36 and M37. The challenge lies in determining which one you are actually looking at!

IC 405, the Flaming Star Nebula, is also very close to Messier 38.

Single Shot & Processing of Messier 38

With only one hour of exposure and the moon shining bright in the sky, we did not really expect much but, like other similar open clusters, this was a breeze to process and the final image looks pretty satisfying.

We used four filters to capture M38 with our monochrome camera: Luminance, Red, Green and Blue. Below you can find what the stacked images look like for each filter.

Final Thoughts

M38 is not very popular in the astrophotography world, most likely because it is "just another boring cluster" but we are glad we gave it some love and captured it for our own Messier catalog! We used to dislike these types of objects but they are very easy to process and do not require long exposure times that they kind of grow on you a little bit.

Have you captured M38? Show us your image in the comments below!

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Clear Skies,

Galactic Hunter



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