Ally's Braids in Taurus: A Pleiad ponytail
12/9/2013 9:25 PM
The Pleiades are a well-known, and young, open star cluster in the constellation of Taurus, the Bull. A mere 100 million or so years old, the brightest ones are hot, blue-white B-class stars. But as many of the stars get dimmer from our perspective, they also get somewhat whiter, and smaller too. A and F class stars are also here.
The Pleiades' shape is sometimes mistaken for "The Little Dipper," which is actually recognized to be Ursa Minor in the northern sky. The Pleiades rises in the eastern sky in late autumn, but the mistake is easy to make. The fact is, this small grouping of stars is easier to make out as many of the true "Little Dipper" stars are fainter causing that asterism's shape to be difficult to discern.
But if we think of this cluster as a dipper, there is a star that sits where the "handle" joins to the "bowl." That star is Alcyone. Just below that star, underneath the "handle" and adjacent to the "bowl" of that "dipper" shape, is a little trail of 7th, 8th, and 9th magnitude stars. it's a real treat in a telescope at 100x or so, and adds a bit of a different look to the Pleiades. There are three faint 10-th magnitude stars that may serve as the split ends of the braid.
Amateur astronomer Stephen Saber named this little string of stars, and they are not quite a half a degree in length, a full half a degree if one includes those 10th magnitude 'strands.'
Overall, a nice sight to see. Check out the Eyes on the Sky video below that discusses where to find this section of sky and a bit more about Taurus and even another asterism in that constellation, Davis' Dog.
Want to know how to find and see these sights and more in the night sky with binoculars or a small telescope? Check out the homepage. For recent videos of other celestial sights to see, click the "Videos" link at the top of this page.