Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Tale of Two Clusters in Taurus

Hyades - Do you see the "V?"
Don't worry, Taurus the Bull isn't sick.  He's just got a cluster of stars on his face and another cluster on his back. 

Finding the Bull is pretty easy.  Look for a long, skinny “V” shape above and to the right of Orion. The “V” marks Taurus’ head and long horns as he is about to trample brawny hunter.

If you are still having trouble, find the three stars which mark Orion’s belt and use them as pointer stars. Connect the three dots and continue this line to the right. This line will take you just under a bright, orange-colored star. That is Aldebaran, or the bull’s eye.

How you find the clusters
You'll notice Aldebaran is redder than other stars – “A ruby of dazzling hue.”  And if you look closely you'll see lot of fainter stars all around Aldebaran and the "V" shape.  These are the Hyades star cluster.  All of these stars (except Aldebaran) are about the same distance away and were formed from the same nebula.  They're the closest open cluster in the skies and that's why you can see them with the naked eye.  The ancient Greeks thought they were the five daughters of Atlas who cried all the time over the death of their brother Hyas.  Ever since then, the Hyades have been associated with rainy seasons.   

The name Aldebaran is an Arabic word loosely translated as “The Follower”. What is Aldebaran following? Just continue that line from Orion’s belt past Aldebaran and you will see the most impressive cluster of stars, the Pleiades.

Close up of both clusters
 Maybe you’ve heard of the Pleiades from their alias, the Seven Sisters. At first glance, the stars in the Pleiades look more like a little cloud the size of the full moon. But upon closer examination, you may detect five, six, or seven individual stars in the group. With binoculars you can see approximately 50 stars in the cluster, and with a telescope you can count all 500 of them.  We'll talk more about the Seven Sisters next week, so tune in!