“Gateway to the Stars” Dec. 1st – The Pleiades

Mike Murray

Our next “Gateway to the Stars” program will be held this Saturday, Dec 1 at 6:45 pm in the Hansen Dome Theatre.

As we approach the date of the Winter Solstice (Dec. 21), the Autumn constellations will appear further toward the west while the Winter stars begin to appear in the east. Some of the most beautiful constellations and deep sky objects will come up with them, including the Pleiades Star Cluster (sometimes known as “The Seven Sisters”).

The Pleiades Star Cluster

The Pleiades will look like a miniature little dipper of stars to the naked eye, which is why it’s sometimes confused with the Little Dipper constellation. The cluster is a spectacular sight in binoculars, where over 80 stars can be seen. Telescopes will reveal even more but you’ll be looking at only one portion of the cluster at a time, so binoculars can actually give you a better impression! Only 400 light years away, the Pleiades represent a young cluster of stars that formed around the same time and are moving together as a group through space. And as the “The Seven Sisters” name implies, there are many wonderful stories connected to this group from cultures around the world.  We’ll be exploring some of these in the show.

The Pleiades are part of the constellation Taurus the Bull.  The “face” of the Bull is just below the Pleiades, with the bright orange star Aldebaran marking the Bull’s eye.  But there  is another, much brighter “star” right nearby – the planet Jupiter!  As Jupiter climbs higher in the sky through the evening, telescopes will show features like the four Galilean Satellites and the equatorial cloud belts.

The Geminid Meteor Shower comes to a peak on the nights of December 13 and 14. The best conditions for meteor watching is to have no Moon in the sky, and this year we are lucky enough to have a New Moon! The Geminids will appear to emanate from the constellation of Gemini the Twins, hence the name.  We’ll talk about how best to see them, but we’ll also have two special “Windows to the Universe” shows dedicated to talking about the Geminids (Thursday, Dec 6 and Saturday, Dec 8).

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