Object of the Month – Pleiades

Object of the Month – Pleiades

At about 8:30pm AEDT on mid-February evenings, the Pleiades open star cluster, also known as the Seven Sisters is positioned midway up in the Northern sky. The rest of its home constellation Taurus, the Bull sits to the East of the cluster.

How to find the Pleiades – Image credit Wikihow

Visually, the cluster is composed of medium-bright, hot blue stars named Asterope, Merope, Electra, Maia, Taygeta, Celaeno, and Alcyone. In Greek mythology, those characters were the daughters of Atlas, and half-sisters of the Hyades. They are indeed related — recently born of the same primordial gas cloud. To the naked eye, only six of the sister stars are usually apparent; their parents Atlas and Pleione are huddled together at the east end of the grouping. Through binoculars many more stars are visible and through a telescope over a hundred stars may be seen.

Many cultures, including the Australian Indigenous people have stories and interpretations of this lovely star cluster. It was significant that the ‘Dance of the Pleiades’ was performed by Pitjantjatjara Aboriginal women from the Central Desert at the Opening Ceremony of the Sydney Olympics in September 2000. However, when you are out camping in the bush in Australia, you can know that the Pleiades women have visited your camp overnight when you wake up with an extremely cold nose and the canvas of your tent or swag covered in white icy crystals. The Pleiades women first appear in the southern hemisphere in the early hours of the morning and they flamboyantly sweep across the sky excreting frost.

In Japan, it is called Subaru, and forms the logo of that particular brand of car.

Due to its similar shape, the Pleiades are sometimes confused with the Little Dipper. 

Donna the Astronomer

I am a keen astronomer lucky enough to live and work in Coonabarabran the Astronomy Capital of Australia! I am a ‘Drover’s Brat’ and discoverer of a couple of comets and asteroids. I operate Milroy Observatory and can show you how to best integrate dark sky experiences into your tourism, farm stay or AirBnB business.

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