M46 (NGC 2437)

Distance: 5400 Light Years

Right Ascension: 07 : 41.8 (hours : minutes)
Declination: -14 : 49 (degrees : minutes)

Although a rich cluster deserving of attention in its own right, M46 may be better known for its guest, the planetary nebula NGC 2438. M46 is one of only two clusters found to have planetary nebulae projected over its stars. The other is the globular cluster M15. Actually the planetary nebula is not related to any members of M46 but is superimposed or possibly passing through M46. This assumption is based on several factors. The first is the differing calculated velocities for cluster and nebula (the radial velocity of NGC 2438 is about 77 km/sec recession, which is 43 km/sec different from the cluster's value). The second is the advanced age of planetary nebulae. The planetary nebula stage is the late evolutionary phase of stars having less than 8 solar masses. This requires at least one billion years to achieve for low and intermediate mass stars, far exceeding the age of M46 thought to be about 300 million years. M46 is a rich distant cluster with a total population of about 500 members, the brightest being some 100 times more luminous than our sun. The spectral types of the brighter members range from B9 to A1. The cluster also contains several red giants. The cluster spans about 30 light years and is a considerably evolved middle aged cluster with an age of about 300 million years.