Airdate: Feb 02, 2001
Scientist: Joe Rao
For people in the Northern Hemisphere, it's a wonderful time to gaze at the Pleiades, the most visible cluster of stars in the sky.
Do you ever look up at the night sky and wish you could recognize something more than the big dipper or Orion? Well there's another group of stars that's pretty easy to identify. For thousands of years, this cluster of stars has been a special inspiration to people all the world over. I'm Jim Metzner and this is the Pulse of the Planet. The group of stars we're talking about has been nicknamed "the seven sisters", or the Pleiades.
"The Pleiades are a star cluster that is probably the most obvious of all clusters in the sky. "
Joe Rao is a lecturer at the Hayden Planetarium in New York.
"Actually, the cluster contains many hundreds of stars, but to the unaided eye, most people see six or seven teeny tiny little stars that are squashed together into a little tight spot in the sky. Theyâ€™re so close, in fact, that at first glance, they look like a little tiny little cloud."
If you follow the line of the upward slant of Orion's belt, the Pleiades lie just North of that. These stars have captured human imagination throughout time. They certainly figure in Greek and Native American mythology. The ancient Arabs believed the constellation brought rain, and farmers in many cultures have timed their planting to the stars' position. The Pleiades have even influenced architecture, and city planning.
"Twenty-eight miles to the Northwest of Mexico City, is the pyramid of the sun, Teatijuacan, and the western side of this sun pyramid is oriented to the setting of the Pleiades. And in fact if you go to Teatijuacan, the local village nearby, the west-running streets of the city all point to that same spot on the western horizon, where the Pleiades vanish in the springtime during the late evening hours."
You might even be driving this constellation. The Japanese word for "Pleiades" is "Subaru." Pulse of the Planet is made possible by the National Science Foundation.