Discover more from Lockdown Stargazing
Lockdown stargazing: The Pleiades star cluster
Find the home of thousands of young stars
If you’re new to this newsletter, welcome! I’m Abby. I’m a freelance science journalist, stargazing columnist and author of The Art of Urban Astronomy. I live in England, where we have just entered a second lockdown…this time in winter. I started this newsletter to help people through the dark nights, with ideas of what to look for in the skies each week. If you live in the southern hemisphere don’t worry, I always try to make sure it applies to stargazers around the world.
Before we start, I don’t usually promote my work on this newsletter but I’d like to make a little exception this week. I was asked by Velux to record myself sharing some tips on stargazing from home, which is now on their Youtube channel. You can watch that here if you want!
Now back to the usual.
I hope everyone in the northern hemisphere has been coping with the increasingly darker nights and colder days. It was frosty in Leeds this morning when I woke up, and I am having to fill my hot water bottle every day. But a particularly cold night often comes hand in hand with clear skies, so fingers crossed you’ll be able to put this newsletter to good use.
This week I’m going to tell you how to find the Pleiades star cluster, which really is a beautiful thing to look at this time of year from anywhere in the world.
Star clusters are groups of young stars that have all formed from the same large cloud of dust and gas, called a nebula. The Pleiades is one of the closest star clusters to Earth and home to over 1,000 stars, but only a handful of these are visible without powerful telescopes. With the naked eye you can see up to 14 stars in the Pleiades depending on the light conditions in your area.
The Pleiades is also known as the Seven Sisters, because the nine brightest stars in the cluster reminded astronomers of the seven sisters of Greek mythology: Sterope, Merope, Electra, Maia, Taygeta, Celaeno, and Alcyone, along with their parents Atlas and Pleione.
The cluster lies in the constellation of Taurus, which is a zodiacal constellation, meaning it falls along the line the sun traces in a year called the ecliptic. This means the Pleiades can be seen from anywhere in the world.
Finding the Pleiades
The easiest way to find the cluster is by first looking for Orion. In the UK, this will rise in the east at around 8pm. In the northern hemisphere, following the three stars of Orion’s Belt from left to right will show you the direction the Pleiades sits in. In the southern hemisphere, you will have to look from right to left.
Follow the line until you see a bright star. This is Aldebaran, the brightest in the constellation of Taurus. Keep going, and you will get to a small patch with a few bright stars closer together. This is the Seven Sisters, or the Pleiades.
If you have a pair of binoculars or a small telescope, the Pleiades is a great target because of the amount of bright stars in one small area of the sky.
As always, I would love to hear from you. If you have any requests about what I should be covering, or if you managed to see something I mentioned, please let me know.
Wishing everyone clear skies!
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