Winter Wonderland

December 5, 2019
pleiades

Seven Sisters or 1000 shining stars?

We are coming into my favourite time of year for the constellations.  As we lose the planets and Milky way band until late Spring next year we get to see some of my favourite stars and constellations.  The one, for me, that signals the arrival of the Winter constellations is the Pleiades Star Cluster.

Better know to some as the seven sisters, Pleiades (Messier 45) is an open cluster around 440 Light years away from earth and probably the most easily visible to the naked eye from Northern Hemisphere.  In fact, Pleiades is visible from almost everywhere on Earth.  But for me it is the mark of the switch between summer and winter constellations.

Despite its name, the seven sisters, you are supposed to be able to see the nine brightest blue giants in the cluster (14 have been reported as visible but I have only ever been able to make out 5 or 6).  The cluster itself is very similar in shape to Ursa Major or Minor but a compact little version to the naked eye.  The cluster probably formed from a small compact nebula more like the Orion Nebula (which we will be viewing in detail soon on our tour).  It´s estimated to have been formed in the last 100 Million years and is estimated to survive in its current formation for another 250 million years, after which time it will disperse due to gravitational forces of its Galactic neighbours.

Orion still chasing the 7 sisters

The Greeks have lots of stories. The Seven Sisters refers to the Seven Daughters of Pleione and Atlas After Atlas was condemned to hold up the heavens, the daughters caught the eye of the hunter Orion.  Orion aggressively pursued the sisters to the point that Zeus had to intervene. First he turned the sisters into doves and then into the bright stars to comfort their father who had been turned into the Atlas Mountains.  As ever there are varying stories from the Greek writers and poets about Pleiades, but this is the one I like most.  Orion can now be seen chasing the sisters still across the Night Skies of winter.

Galileo was the first astronomer to view Pleiades through a telescope in March 1610 and noted that there were many stars there too dim to see with the Naked eye and recorded seeing 36 stars.  Messier added Pleiades to his catalogue as M45 in 1771 and then there was a record of 64 stars from the observations of Edme-Sebastien Jeaurat in 1779.  Although its been know since 1767 that the cluster was a chance alignment and that they were a physically related group of stars it wasn´t until more recently that its been said to have 1000 stars not including unresolved binary stars.

The stars of the Seven sisters

Join Galileo in having observed the cluster by joining us this winter on a Star Safari.

Don´t miss out on our special offer, our Star Safari is now on Special offer until 1st January so book now for a great Xmas present or just treat yourself to see one of the best Night Skies in the World.

If you have any questions, then please leave a comment or get in touch via email.

Until Next time this Kieran signing off.

Photo Credit goes to

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