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).


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


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.

CNYO Observing Log: Baltimore Woods, 27 September 2013

Greetings fellow astrophiles!

The September 27th Baltimore Woods session was notable for several reasons. On the down side, my drive to Marcellus through Fairmount was delayed when a minivan with far too many large dogs in it had one of its automatic windows dropped down to the delight of an ejected dog that bounced off my driver side door (my non-astro thought for the day – if your pets are your children, please use the child safety options built into your very modern vehicle!). On the up side, for the first time since March, a Baltimore Woods session started at 7 p.m. The skies were dark enough to begin seeing the brightest stars with ease and cold enough to freeze out the many bugs that frequent the BW Nature Center.

Attending scopes included Bob Piekiel‘s massive 16″ Meade GOTO (with some included heavy lifting by the two of us to get it set up and torn down), Larry Slosberg’s 12″ New Moon Telescope, and my 12.5″ NMT Dob (herein referred to as “Ruby”). A fourth scope appeared early in the evening with the first attending family, but ended up not getting too much use. Despite being a bit worse for wear, their “retail store” Stratus 60mm refractor scope surprised the owners (and kids) with a good view of a distant cellular tower and a fuzzy but noticeably “half-moon cookie” Venus (whatever description works is fine with me).


Bob inspecting the Stratus 60mm.

The final size (25ish) of the crowd (and the number of first-time attendees) dictated the observables for the evening, with all of us sticking mostly to bright, easily identifiable objects. As for our local neighborhood, the good news was that more than half of the planets were out for the evening (counting the views of Earth). The bad news was that Venus and Saturn set early (both due to the time and the high trees along the Western horizon), leaving the very distant Uranus and Neptune as targets for later-night observers.

As has been my standard procedure, I picked one object from my standard list of “kinds of” objects so those at my scope would be sure to get a sampling of the types of objects we amateur astronomers look forward to looking at. My list included:

* (Hopefully) One Planet – From my (scope’s) vantage point, Venus and Saturn were impossible catches behind large trees. Neptune and Uranus were, for the entire viewing session, nestled within the glow of Marcellus (and Syracuse beyond), so I didn’t even bother attempting to find them. Bob, however, had at his disposal a massive GOTO, so the gathered crowd was able to take in at least one of the two distant planets (making them part of the way-less-than-1% of the entire planet who can claim the same).

* One Star – At Bob’s request, I gave special attention to Herschel’s Garnet Star (mu Cephei) in Cepheus. One of the real benefits of magnification through good optics (or long-exposure photography) is the appearance of color in many stars that are otherwise just too slightly colored to be noticeable to Naked Eye observers. While the different colors of the binary star Albireo are generally obvious to most people, the Garnet Star jumped out to everyone through every eyepiece as a very orange star. This red supergiant, affectionately known to some as Erakis, is BIG. Those who have seen the image below in one of our CNYO library lectures…


The scale of familiar objects in our vicinity (click for the wikipedia version).

Will recognize Mu Cephei as the third star from right (in the “Big Block” 6) in the bottom of the image. Our own Sun peters out in Block 3. If a super race of aliens were to swap out our Sun for the Garnet Star, the outer edge of its plasma would engulf Jupiter and either engulf or roast Saturn. Big. Not only big, but old to boot. Mu Cephei is what is known as a “carbon star,” one that has nearly exhausted its helium (which is produced from all the fusion of hydrogen, which it then exhausted quite some time ago) and is now producing carbon in the star’s core. The near-exhaustion of the star’s fuel means that it’s likely only a few million years from going supernova (somewhere between a finger snap and ringing wine glass in cosmic terms) and is currently identified as a variable star for its subtle and erratically changing brightness.


Mu Cephei, Cepheus, and surrounding constellations.

As you scour Cepheus some evening, do take the Garnet Star in. If you’re scanning randomly along the bottom of the barn, you can’t miss it!

* One BinaryAlbireo in Cygnus remains an easy favorite. Everyone saw Albireo A as slightly orange or yellow, while Albireo B appeared as slightly to “clearly” blue (clearly a demonstration of the importance of dark adaption and cone sensitivity in the retina). One point of interest is that we’re not entirely sure of Albireo is an optical binary (the two just appear close, but one is much farther away than the other as projected onto our two-dimensional sheet of the Night Sky) or a gravitationally-bound binary pair. If gravitationally-bound, the two are likely far from one another, with the orbital dance occurring over 100,000 or more years.

* One Open Cluster – The Double Cluster (Caldwell 14) in Perseus

* One Globular Cluster – The ever-obvious M13 in Hercules

* One Nebula – The Veil Nebula in Cygnus – typically, this would be considered one of the less-easy objects for a new observer to make out. Through an OII filter, however, the wispy-ness jumps out and new observers, with a little patience, can even see the curvature of each fragment well enough to know where the Veil must be radiating from.

* One Galaxy – M31, The Andromeda Galaxy in Andromeda (and M32 and M110), which were easy for all to spot with a little scope nudging.

As has become the norm recently, I packed up Ruby around 9:30 p.m. and pulled out the Canon T3i and tripod for an extended session of scope-less astrophotography. Three highlights include a very discernible Milky Way, complete with Great Rift, from opposite the direction of Marcellus…


The Milky Way (plus one bright plane and one dim satellite). Click for a larger version.

A dimmer part of the Milky Way that seemed to radiate from (and be washed out by) Marcellus…


The Milky Way and Marcellus (plus a dim plane (dashed line) and dim satellite). Click for a larger version.

And a quite decent view of the varied objects in the vicinity of the constellation Perseus (in the pocket between the two trees and closer to the left tree), including the components of the Double Cluster, NGC 884 and 869 (the fuzzy splotches at the base of the small necklace – 1/3 over from the left edge and 1/4 down the image).


Perseus, NGC 884, and NGC 869. Click for a larger version.

I packed it in around 10:00 p.m. in great anticipation! Within the glow of Marcellus lay the Pleiades (M45) and just a hint of its closer cousin the Hyades in the head of Taurus the Bull. These objects have likely served as markers for many millennia that the clear, dark, steady, and uncomfortably cold night skies of winter approach.

CNYO Observing Log: Baltimore Woods, 16 March 2013


ABOVE: A 15 sec. exposure from Baltimore Woods. (1) Sirius in Canis Major, (2) Orion, (3) The Hyades (the head of Taurus the Bull), (4) Jupiter, (5) the Pleiades, (6) The Moon.

The sky opened up for a crisp and clear viewing session late in the day after a long spell of heavy cloud cover on Saturday, March 16th. I made it to Baltimore Woods just in time for Bob Piekiel to direct me and my pair of Zhumell 25×100’s to the low-Western Horizon to take in Comet pan-STARRS (C/2011 L4, that is) with a light amber coloring and even a slight vertically-pointing oval that became an obvious tail at low magnification. This view only seemed to get better Sunday night (17th), where the comet was Naked Eye from downtown Syracuse!

A horizon view of pan-STARRS is shown below (above the red asterisk. Canon DS1400 IS Digital Elph, 15 second exposures). Click on the image for a larger view.


A time lapse of pan-STARRS setting below the Western horizon at Baltimore Woods is shown below (starts below the asterisk at left. Canon DS1400 IS Digital Elph, 4x zoom, 15 second exposures). Click on the image for a larger view.


A view through the Zhumell 25×100 binos is below (by way of some fancy camera balancing). Click on the image for a larger view.


spaceweather.com has a summary of the current situation on their website (as of 19 March 2013):

A growing number of people are reporting that they can see Comet Pan-STARRS with the naked eye. Best estimates place the magnitude of the comet at +0.2, about twice as bright as a 1st magnitude star. As the comet moves away from the sun, its visibility is improving. Observing tip: Step outside about an hour after sunset and face west. Pinpoint the comet using binoculars. Once you know where to look, put the optics aside and try some naked-eye observing.

By the time pan-STARRS set below the horizon, the sky was quite dark and extremely transparent. Bob and I proceeded to play for an hour with his 11” SCT, new Meade 5000 super- and ultra- wides (24 mm and 40 mm), and my personal favorite, his Collins Image Intensifier (which does exactly what it describes – increasing the brightness of objects in the eyepiece and, in many cases, making observable a dim object you might otherwise completely pass over without knowing it was there – you can see some example images here: darkerview.com/wordpress/?tag=intensifier).

Besides a thoroughly enjoyable conversation about optics, focal reducers, and new eye candy to look for at NEAF, highlights of the observing session included:

Visible Planets

* Jupiter (just to the right of the Hyades, as Taurus exchanges its otherwise brightest left eye (Aldebaran) with Jupiter as its right eye). Having given Jupiter considerable scope time this year already, we checked it mostly just to confirm it was still there.

In Taurus

* Messier 45 – The Pleiades served as an excellent cluster for testing Bob’s new focal reducer (which, basically, increases the field of view). An excellent image showing what the focal reducer does is shown below (from webcaddy.com.au/astro/f-066fr-pics.htm).


In Orion

* Messier 42 – The Orion Nebula (without and without enhancement, with the Collins brightening and increasing the extent of the nebulosity). The Orion Nebula is the brightest and most expansive nebula observable from Earth and it sets earlier every day, so we spent considerable time on it before missing it all Spring and Summer.

In Andromeda

* The Andromeda Galaxy (M31) and Messier 32 – The intensifier brought out the presence of the central core of Andromeda but did not significantly enhance detail (specifically the dust lanes and spaces between the spiral arms that one can see in any eyepiece in dark skies). This was likely due to the presence of the Moon nearby in the sky (which can do a significant number to nebula and galaxy detail even when only present as a sliver), but I did learn some more about the intensifier eyepiece (see below). M32 (one of M31’s satellite galaxies) was also bright but featureless.

In Leo

* Messier 65, Messier 66, and NGC 3628 – All three galaxies in The Leo Triplet were excellent in the intensifier (and in the same field of view) despite the Moon. At the first Inner Harbor session, M65 and M66 were just visible (due to the the light pollution around the site) thanks to Ryan Goodson bringing a 16” New Moon Telescope Dobsonian.

In Gemini

* Messier 35 – an open cluster nearly the size of the full Moon, containing a few bright stars and a tight grouping of dimmer ones. The intensifier has a tendency to “haze” a bit around these tight groupings as the pixels on the CCD chip begin to oversaturate.

In Canis Major

* Messier 41 – While observing this open cluster, the over-saturation of the CCD chip became obvious in the form of perfectly circular discs around each of the brightest stars, making each appear to have a well-defined nebula around it (not that these stars need any kind of image enhancement to see clearly in any scope. As you might guess, brighter star = bigger + brighter disc).

In Perseus

Caldwell 14 – The Double Cluster – in the same way that stereotypical night vision goggles give you only shades (or different intensities) of green, the intensifier sacrifices color for “green intensity.” Accordingly, the reds, oranges, and blues in the Double Cluster that make it such an interesting eyepiece object go away, leaving you with just (well, not just) two dense star clusters. This is the best argument for intensifiers being used as tools for galaxy and nebulae hunting.

In Ursa Major

Messier 81 – NGC 3031, Bode’s Galaxy – An excellent sight in the intensifier despite the crescent Moon (which would otherwise make it nearly featureless).

Messier 82 – NGC 3034, Cigar Galaxy – M81’s gravitational neighbor (with M82 being the smaller neighbor and, therefore, more gravitationally influenced by M81). M82 appears to have two distinct cores in the intensifier (that would make it look like two galaxies about to merge). I attribute this double-core view to the intensifier picking up the massive filamentous structure perpendicular to M82’s galactic plane – but should buy my own intensifier to study it in more detail!).

Messier 97 (Own Nebula) + Messier 108 – Admittedly, Bob and I kept passing M108 while trying to find M97 and failed to recognize it as M108 (faint but pleasant in the intensifier). That said, M97 was a very difficult find despite Bob bringing a GOTO scope and, by the time I confirmed to myself that I had it in the field of view, I was under-impressed with the intensifier view (it was barely an object with averted vision, although some part of this could have been the Moon’s presence).

We closed the session around 9:15 p.m. by returning to the Orion Nebula for one last comparison of the intensifier and the Meade 40 mm.

Lessons for the evening: (1) Don’t assume of comets! And, if you observe, report to the group so others know to also not assume! (2) Just because you’re freezing cold doesn’t mean you should stand 1/2 inch from a portable propane heater. At what feels like cryogenic temperatures, your leg goes from 10 F to 150 F before your nerves notice it.