Thursday, November 20, 2008

The Pleiades Have Risen!


Wow! We have now officially (that is, according to me) entered the best star viewing season of the Astronomy year. Speaking of Astronomy Years, 2009 really has been officially designated as the International Year of Astronomy by the International Astronomical Union. Doesn’t that just get you all excited?

If your skies are clear, and your light pollution isn’t too overwhelming - boy, can you have some fun! Eight of the thirteen most brilliant stars visible from Earth and some of the most easily discernable constellations are now all coming into view. For me, the rise of the Pleiades star cluster is the herald of the viewing season to come, and the first star cluster which I found as an amateur astronomer.

For the last few nights, since a cold front cleared my part of North America, I have had extraordinarily clear viewing during my nightly constitutionals with the Supreme Poodle Pasha Zackery. I continue to try to interest him in the stars on our nightly outings; and although he is extremely intelligent, the glories of the sky pale in comparison to the fun of games of tag with his harem girl, MaxiCat. Children are so shallow. But, I digress, a crime which I am often guilty of.
Rising above the eastern horizon, just at sunset, are the Pleiades, my favorite of all the star clusters. I suppose that is because: 1) I can see it; 2) it was my first; and 3) it is so very beautiful. The glow that you see in the picture is a dust cloud, or reflection nebula, which surrounds the cluster. The cluster is 400 light years distant, about 13 light years across, and contains over 3000 stars. Crowded neighborhood! Astronomers, using infrared detectors have recently found a dusty disk that belongs to one young Pleiades star -- HD 23514. Can we say “planets” anyone? By the time that it is fully dark, the stars of the Pleiades are easily visible with the naked eye, and positively glorious through binoculars or a telescope. You can find them lying at the feet of Perseus. Considering the morals of the Greek gods, it’s a good thing that Perseus was an honorable man and so in love with Andromeda!

According to the Ancient Greeks, the Pleiades were the seven daughters of Atlas, who held up the skies. Seven was the number of stars which the ancients could see, hence the name “Seven Sisters.” These girls were, as are all daddies’ daughters, excessively beautiful. And being beautiful, they had a suitor, the lusty hunter Orion. The problem was that the greedy man wanted them all. Daddy Atlas was not amused. My next astronomy post will be about how Daddy Atlas protected his little girls’ virtue from Orion.
Tune in next week for the ongoing, Ancient Greek, soap opera of the stars.

Happy viewing,
Frances
Writing Science Fiction Romance
Real Love in a Real Future

2 comments:

Keith said...

The sky is so light polluted where I live (30 miles from London) that we only see a tiny proportion of what the sky has to offer. So I envy you the clear skies.

Frances said...

Hi Keith,
I am so glad that you decided to stop by. Light pollution is such a problem, and it affects wild life as well as our pleasure of viewing the stars. It happens to be one of my soap boxes. I'm sorry that the light pollution in southern England is so bad. There are solutions, and I plan to address them soon in my blog. I have see a solution! Come back for a visit often.