DR. SKY BLOG

January is terrific time of year to look for Pleiades star cluster

Jan 12, 2022, 2:00 PM
(NASA, ESA and AURA/Caltech Photo)...
(NASA, ESA and AURA/Caltech Photo)
(NASA, ESA and AURA/Caltech Photo)

As January rolls on, we look to the night skies for additional objects to view and enjoy.

With clear skies and a pair of binoculars, or the naked eye, we come across an object that I am sure has been viewed by many in the course of their lives as a tiny star cluster which many think is the Little Dipper.

Not so fast. This little group of stars, which would fit into the diameter of a full moon, is one of the most amazing star clusters or asterisms in the entire night sky!

The object which I am referring to is the vast star cluster known as the Pleiades.

High on these winter nights, located in the zodiac sigh of Taurus, rests the Pleiades or “Seven Sisters” as they are known by many.

Located some 444 light years from Earth, the Pleiades star cluster is made up of a large swarm of young hot B class stars.

This asterism is also known as Messier 45 and is among the nearest of star clusters to Earth.

The Pleiades are only some 100 million years old, very young by stellar standards.

Astronomers believe that the star cluster will remain as we see it for at least the next 250 million years, providing you with ample time to go out and view and enjoy it!

The Pleiades have been known since ancient time and are actually mentioned three times in the Bible.

So popular are the Pleiades that the car manufacturer Subaru has used them as the logo on their vehicles for a long time too.

Here is what the Pleiades look like in the night sky on a standard sky chart.

Here is a detailed view of the star cluster for those with a telescope or high power binoculars:

The star cluster has many magical names for the stars contained within and most are named for the daughters of the great Atlas.

Here is an image with the location of the named stars of the Pleiades.

In my opinion, the best views of the Pleiades star cluster come on dark moonless nights in a pair of binoculars, as the field of view in a 10×56 binocular will fit the entire cluster in its 6-degree field of view.

Better views will come with telescopes, using the lowest of magnification.

On the darkest of nights, the true nebulosity of the cluster will come into view. In astronomy, we call this a reflection nebula.

Artists have depicted the true nature of the seven sisters and the daughters of Atlas. Here, we get to see the beauty of the Pleiades in this painting.

And another by the famous artist Botticelli.

For that special treat in the sky, look to the Pleiades on these January evenings. The best views will come during the last week of the month, as the light of the moon will not interfere.

To print your own monthly star chart, click here.

To view satellites/dates/times of passage, click here.

Listen to the Dr. Sky Show on KTAR News 92.3 FM every Saturday at 3 a.m.

Podcasts are available here.

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January is terrific time of year to look for Pleiades star cluster