Archive for November, 2009


Sunday, November 15th, 2009
The Pleiades

It may be known to science as Messier 45, but throughout history the Pleiades has gone by many names, including the seven sisters and the Maia Nebula. Subaru is the Japanese name for the Pleiades. The Arabic name is al-Thurayya. The ancient Hebrews called it kimah, and it is mentioned in the Bible. It is also important in Hindu mythology, where it is known as Krittika. If I wanted to, I could go on for a while with this list of names, as nearly every ancient culture has it’s name for the Pleiades. But I think you get the idea; people have been looking at this star cluster for a long time. And now we’re getting to the time of year where you can too. The Pleiades are in the east, in the constellation Taurus, in the late evening. Clearly visible to the naked eye as a bright patch, a good pair of binoculars are the best way to enjoy the cluster as a whole. A telesope will probably have too much magnification to see the whole thing at one time. However a good telescope will let you see the nebulosity surrounding the hot blue stars found in the Pleiades.

One of the reasons the Pleiades is such an obvious and easily visible cluster is because, at 440 light years, it is also one of the closest open star clusters to Earth. This makes it a little odd it was ever included in Charles Messier’s famous catalogue. Back in Messier’s day, finding a comet was the way to become famous as an astronomer. And so Messier catalogued objects that could be mistaken for comets. But it seems very unlikely someone would make that mistake with such a well known star cluster. In any event, if you’re trying to see how many Messier objects you can spot, this is about the easiest one out there.

The Leonids

Sunday, November 1st, 2009

Now that we’ve made the turn into November, we can start looking forward to this month’s famous meteor shower, the Leonids. Created by the comet Tempel-Tuttle, the Leonids will reach their peak on the 17th and 18th. And there’s no need to worry about the moon interfering with your viewing. While you’re up watching the Leonids, you’ll probably also notice Mars. The Red planet is rising in the east in the early morning hours, and will be shining at a bright magnitude 0.2 by the time of the Leonids.