Catching the Pleiades

Star clusters are very beautiful to gaze upon, whether it’s seeing them with your naked eye or using optical aid. Some star clusters appear very small, where others appear larger. One of the easiest and brightest star clusters to view is the Pleiades.

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View of the Pleiades star cluster

The Pleiades has been known to many cultures around the world since antiquity, and has been a prominent sight in the night sky. It has been mentioned in the Bible and is thought to also be mentioned in the Qur’an. The Pleiades is associated with the Hindu war god Kartikeya. The ancient Greeks used the Pleiades to help navigate the Mediterranean Sea, and the Japanese automobile company Subaru is named after the Pleiades.

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How to find the Pleiades in the night sky

The Pleiades is fairly close to Earth, at about 450 light-years’ distance. That means that the Pleiades appears very large. The Pleiades is moving slowly towards Orion, and will be pulled apart due to gravitational interactions over the next 250 million years. You can easily see the Pleiades with the naked eye, even in moderate light pollution here in the fall season. It appears as a small kite-like pattern near the constellation Taurus. As both a test of your vision and of how dark your sky is, see how many stars of the Pleiades you can see with your naked eyes. Most people can easily see 5 stars. If you have sharp vision, and your sky is very dark, you may be able to spot 6-7 stars or more.

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The Pleiades with the Hyades cluster (the horns of Taurus the Bull)

A better option is to use binoculars to view the Pleiades. With binoculars, a dozen or more stars become visible. Galileo noted 36 different stars when he used his primitive telescope to view the Pleiades. Most of the stars in Pleiades are young, bright, blue stars. The brightest of these stars are named after the Seven Sisters of Greek mythology.

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Pleiades with the stars labeled

If you use a telescope to view the Pleiades, use a low magnification, wide field eyepiece for optimum results. With filters, you may notice some nebulousity around the bright stars of Pleiades. This is a dust cloud that the cluster is moving through which is being illuminated by the bright, blue stars of Pleiades.

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The Pleiades with nebulousity

Out of the several star clusters visible to the naked eye, the Pleiades is by far the largest and brightest. It is a prominent fixture in the night skies of fall and early winter, and it can be seen in moderate light pollution. Whether you view the Pleiades with your naked eyes, binoculars, or a telescope, you’ll be treated to an amazing and beautiful sight!

Don’t forget to share us with your stargazing friends on Facebook and Twitter!

 

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