If you’ve ever looked at the night sky from the Northern Hemisphere during fall or winter, you’ve almost certainly seen the Pleiades (pronounced “plee-er-deez”).
One of the most prominent open clusters of stars in the night sky, the Pleiades contain about 800 stars, yet they get the nickname “Seven Sisters” because seven are so bright that they can be seen immediately with the naked eye. Six are easy. The seventh is very difficult!
This weekend, the stars of the Pleiades — called M45 by astronomers — reach their highest point in the sky around midnight, as seen from North America, according to In-The-Sky.org. This makes it possibly the best time of year to see the cluster in the darkest of the night sky. Astronomers call this moment the object’s moment culmination,
If skies are clear where you are, this is a good time to observe the Pleiades – although they are easily visible from September to March.
Here’s when and where to see the Pleiades this week — and everything you need to know about one of the jewels of the night sky:
where to find the pleiades
The Pleiades are in the constellation of Taurus, currently rising in the southeast after dark and high in the south at midnight. An easy way to find it is to locate Orion’s Belt – those famous three stars in a row – and trace an imaginary line going up and to the right. The first bright star you’ll come across is the orangey Aldebaran, the brightest star in the Taurus constellation and about 65 light-years away from the Solar System. Travel the same distance again and you will arrive at the Pleiades.
At first glance, it will appear like a blurry spot to the naked eye, but look properly and you’ll see six stars in the shape of a “mini Big Dipper.”
Explanation of open clusters
Also called M45, the Pleiades are an open cluster of 800 stars in the constellation Taurus, about 444 light-years from the Solar System.
Open clusters are groups of stars – the building blocks of galaxies. As giant molecular clouds collapse under the force of their gravity, stars are born, usually in groups of hundreds or thousands. They wander through space together for some time – as the Pleiades are doing – but eventually disperse.
stars of the pleiades
The stars of the Pleiades are only 100 million years old. For reference, the Sun is 4.6 billion years old. This makes the stars very special because they are incredibly young.
They are all also hot B-type blue stars, the hottest and most massive stars, but also the stars with the shortest life cycles. The brightest seven are Sterope, Merope, Electra, Maia, Taygetas, Celaeno, and Alison.
The stars of the Pleiades are exceptionally bright compared to our Sun. According to Terrence Dickinson’s Nightwatch with Ken Hewitt-White, the largest and brightest star in the Pleiades—Alicon—is 2,000 times brighter than our Sun. The open cluster itself is about 85 light-years wide.
What makes the Pleiades so special to see?
The Pleiades are famous for their exceptionally bright nebula. The gas and dust among the dense stars—and the light from them—is what makes this object so beautiful.
The formation of stars often creates clouds of dust and debris between stars. Yet, according to NASA, in the case of the Pleiades, it is an independent cloud of interstellar material that continues to flow through the cluster.
Why do the Pleiades look so bright?
The most impressive aspect of the Pleiades is the collective brightness of its stars. The best way to appreciate it is to use a technique called embodied vision. Look straight at the Pleiades, and you’ll see about six stars. However, just look to the side of it, and you’ll see it as a brighter, brighter object in your peripheral vision.
The human eye’s peripheral vision is very sensitive to brightness, while its direct vision is all about detail.
How to Get the Best View of the Pleiades
The nebula between the stars of the Pleiades is best viewed either with the naked eye or with a telescope. If you gaze at the stars on a clear night from late fall to early spring, it’s impossible to miss – whenever you look anywhere near the constellation Taurus, you’ll always see a bright, hazy patch of light in the corner of your eye. Will see.
It is an excellent sight even with a pair of 10x50mm (or similar) binoculars. Any small telescope will also give you a good view, but it’s nowhere near as impressive – the Pleiades prove that some of the most outstanding views of the night sky can be best seen with minimal optical equipment.
Wishing you clear skies and wide eyes.