Tag Archives: Hyades

NASA Night Sky Notes: Spot The Young Stars Of The Hyades And Pleiades

Poster’s Note: One of the many under-appreciated aspects of NASA is the extent to which it publishes quality science content for children and Ph.D.’s alike. Your tax dollars help promote science! The following article was provided for reprinting by the Night Sky Network in January, 2020.

By David Prosper

Orion is the last of a trio of striking star patterns to rise during the late fall and early winter months, preceded by the diminutive Pleiades and larger Hyades in Taurus. All three are easily spotted rising in the east in early January evenings, and are textbook examples of stars in different stages of development.

As discussed in last month’s Notes, the famous Orion Nebula (M42), found in Orion’s “Sword,” is a celestial nursery full of newly-born “baby stars” and still-incubating “protostars,” surrounded by the gas from which they were born. Next to Orion we find the Hyades, in Taurus, with their distinctive “V’ shape. The Hyades are young but mature stars, hundreds of millions of years old and widely dispersed. Imagine them as “young adult” stars venturing out from their hometown into their new galactic apartments. Bright orange Aldebaran stands out in this group, but is not actually a member; it just happens to be in between us and the Hyades. Traveling from Orion to the Hyades we then find the small, almost dipper-shaped Pleiades star cluster (M45). These are “teenage stars,” younger than the Hyades, but older than the newborn stars of the Orion Nebula. These bright young stars are still relatively close together, but have dispersed their birth cocoon of stellar gas, like teenagers venturing around the neighborhood with friends and wearing their own clothes, but still remaining close to home – for now. Astronomers have studied this trio in great detail in order to learn more about stellar evolution.

Figuring the exact distance of the Pleiades from Earth is an interesting problem in astrometry, the study of the exact positions of stars in space. Knowing their exact distance away is a necessary step in determining many other facts about the Pleiades. The European Space Agency’s Hipparcos satellite determined their distance to about 392 light years away, around 43 light years closer than previous estimates. However, subsequent measurements by NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope indicated a distance of 440 light years, much closer to pre-Hipparcos estimates. Then, using a powerful technique called Very Long Baseline Interferometry (VLBI), which combines the power of radio telescopes from around the world, the distance of the Pleiades was calculated to 443 light years. The ESA’s Gaia satellite, a successor to Hipparcos, recently released its first two sets of data, which among other findings show the distance close to the values found by Hubble and VLBI, possibly settling the long-running “Pleiades Controversy” and helping firm up the foundation for follow-up studies about the nature of the stars of the Pleiades.

You can learn more about the Pleiades in the Universe Discovery Guide at bit.ly/UDGMarch , and find out about missions helping to measure our universe at nasa.gov.

Locate Orion rising in the east after sunset to find the Orion Nebula in the “Sword,” below the famous “Belt” of three bright stars. Then, look above Orion to find both the Hyades and the Pleiades. Binoculars will bring out lots of extra stars and details in all three objects, but you can even spot them with your unaided eye!
Close-up of the Pleiades, with the field of view of Hubble’s Fine Guidance Sensors overlaid in the top left, which helped refine the distance to the cluster. The circumference of the field of view of these sensors is roughly the size of the full Moon. (Credit: NASA, ESA and AURA/Caltech)

The Night Sky Network program supports astronomy clubs across the USA dedicated to astronomy outreach. Visit nightsky.jpl.nasa.gov to find local clubs, events, and more!

“Upstate NY Stargazing In December” Article Posted To newyorkupstate.com And syracuse.com

Greetings, fellow astrophiles!

The latest article in the series, “Upstate NY Stargazing in December: Geminid meteor shower, another Supermoon,” has just been posted to newyorkupstate.com and syracuse.com.

The discussion is fairly Taurus-centric this month, and very much localized to that part of the sky with the Geminids, Supermoon, and Aldebaran occultation occurring all mid-month. This month also includes more event announcements for several NY astronomy clubs with posted December observing sessions, which reportedly worked out (too?) well for Baltimore Woods attendance.

Direct Link: newyorkupstate.com/outdoors/2016/12/…_meteor_shower_another_supermoon.html

Direct Link: syracuse.com/outdoors/index.ssf/2016/12/…_meteor_shower_another_supermoon.html

The Learn A Constellation section also includes one of my all-time favorite images. Among the many treasures in the Lascaux Cave paintings is one that very, very much looks like a simple constellation map of Orion’s Belt, the Pleiades, and the Hyades, with the Hyades superimposed on a drawing of a bull with extra-long horns – all a perfect match for that part of the sky.

Time may never tell if we can track down the descendants of the artist as they migrated through southern Europe and into the Middle East and North Africa, carrying the story of the great Bull in the Sky with them that ultimately became our constellation Taurus. The story of people and animals in the sky may not be in our distant folklore, but it did make its way into our DNA in the way that we see such pictures where none actually exist (better to be safe than sorry when that bump on the savanna turns out to be more toothy than the usual mount of dirt).

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Caption: No bull – a Lascaux painting marking the location of an ancient Taurus, c.a. 15,500 B.C. Click for a larger view.

“November Stargazing in Upstate NY” Article Posted To newyorkupstate.com And syracuse.com

Greetings, fellow astrophiles!

The latest article in the series, “November Stargazing in Upstate NY: Catch the sometimes roaring Leonids,” has just been posted to newyorkupstate.com and syracuse.com.

This month, we introduce the open clusters using the Hyades and Pleiades, then focus on Cygnus the Swan and finding the small, distant open clusters M29 and M39. Orion, Taurus, and the Pleiades are up all the earlier this month, bringing the best of winter to us just early enough to take in some great telescope views.

This month also includes event announcements for several NY astronomy clubs with posted November observing sessions. I’m hoping to have permissions from several other clubs to post their announcements as well to fill out the within-one-hour’s-drive map of NY public sessions (sadly perfect timing, given that winter often means observing hibernation).

Direct Link: newyorkupstate.com/outdoors/2016/10/…_the_sometimes_roaring_leonids.html

Direct Link: syracuse.com/outdoors/index.ssf/2016/10/…_the_sometimes_roaring_leonids.html

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Caption: A 30 second exposure of the International Space Station above Lake Ontario and just past the Big Dipper (left). Photo by Don Chamberlin, member of ASRAS-Rochester Astronomy Club.