November is a great time to have a look at some of the treasures of the night sky in Taurus. Most of us know of the bull constellation from astrology, in the real universe, it contains 2 of the most wonderful sights in the sky. These are the star clusters, the Pleiades and the Hyades
Star clusters can be wondrous things, groups of stars close to each other, sometimes many hundreds of them, all kept near each other by gravity.
This month if you go out on a clear night after about 9.30pm and look in the east, a little way above the horizon, you should see a sideways 'V' of stars, a bit like an arrowhead. These stars are the Hyades, which in mythology formed the nose of Taurus the bull. They're incredible cluster of stars, and one of the first things to look at for anyone starting with a telescope. Big telescopes have counted 132 stars, but even with a small telescope or binoculars we can see more than enough, to make a fabulous sight.
Now for my favourite star cluster, M 45, the Pleiades, or 7 Sisters which is a little way above and to the right of the Hyades. It's difficult to miss, even on a poor night you should be able to see 4 or 5 stars very close together. Now look through your binoculars, it's a real ooh aah sight. Instead of 4 or 5 stars, you will see what looks a hundred, all surrounded in a thin gas cloud lit by the star Merope. The gas cloud used to be believed to be left over from the formation of these stars, a mere 500 million years ago, now we know the cluster just happens to be passing through it. This fabulous cluster is about 410 light years away so when the light you are seeing now began its journey to your eyes, king Charles the first was on the English throne.
As with most clusters it's slowly dispersing, so if you want to see it, you only have 200 million years until it's gone!
If you're the kind of person who likes to read, and enjoys a good story, it's worth looking up some of these names like the Pleiades, and how they were related to Orion. The ancient Greek stories and myths from which so many of our stars and constellations get their names are quite fascinating, and very often downright weird to our modern sensibilities. It's also surprising how many modern great books have pinched story lines and themes from the ancients.
That's all for this month, next month I'll be answering a few of the questions that I've received recently, until then, enjoy your star gazing.
Charles Oates, Vega Baja Astronomy Group.