Tomorrow morning the last quarter moon will be near the Seven Sisters star cluster also known as the Pleiades (PLEE-uh-deez). This true star cluster has a shape like a small dipper and is sometimes confused for the real Little Dipper constellation. The Pleiades are 440 light years from Earth and comprise a gravitationally-bound cluster of some 500 stars. With the naked eye you’ll see six or seven stars huddled closely together like friends around a fire, binoculars show dozens and telescopes far more. The nearness of the moon will help you find the cluster, but its light will compromise the view. Try binoculars to see them best.
Above the moon, you’ll easily spot one of the smaller constellations, Aries the Ram, comprised of three stars arranged like a bent index finger. Below the Seven Sisters is yet another star cluster, the Hyades (HYE-uh-deez). It’s takes up a bigger piece of the sky in part because at 150 light years distant, it’s considerably closer than its sister cluster. The bright star Aldebaran is closer yet but happens to be in the same line of the sight as the Hyades; it’s not a true cluster member.
The Hyades were sisters to Hyas, the son of the Greek god Atlas. When Hyas was killed by a wild boar, the sisters were so saddened they died of grief. Zeus took pity upon them and placed them in the heavens in the constellation of Taurus the Bull. The Hyades were half-sisters to the Pleiades, who were also daughters of Atlas. Atlas was the dude who was forced to carry the heavens on his shoulders. One version of the Pleiades story recounts that Orion pursued the young ladies because Atlas was too preoccupied with his celestial weightlifting. To ease Atlas’ concerns about Orion’s intentions, Zeus turned the daughters into stars and floated them up to the sky.
In late August, both star clusters only begin to nudge into the night sky – you have to stay up late to catch them. By fall, they rise during the evening hours and presage the arrival of the winter constellations Taurus, Orion and Gemini.
If you’re more of an early evening sky watcher and would rather wait for fall for the Pleiades to come to you, no problem. We’ve got some sleep-saving viewing times for the International Space Station (ISS) through the remainder of the week.
All passes listed below will happen in the northern sky with the space station moving from northwest to northeast. The times are Central Daylight and good for the Duluth region. For times for your town, please click HERE and key in your zip code.
* Tonight starting at 9:11 p.m.
* Tues. Aug. 31 at 8:02 p.m. and again at 9:38 p.m. The second pass will be short. Watch for the ISS to turn red through binoculars as it enters Earth’s shadow.
* Weds. Sept. 1 at 8:30 p.m.
* Thurs. Sept. 2 at 8:58 p.m.
* Fri. Sept. 3 at 9:25 p.m.
* Sat. Sept. 4 at 8:17 p.m. and 9:52 p.m. Another opportunity to watch the sun set on the station as it enters Earth’s shadow.
Tomorrow we’ll look at how a new impact crater – with meteorites – was discovered in southern Egypt by someone scanning Google Earth photos.