Last time we turned our sights to the stars, it was in pursuit of the deep sky jewel boxes that are globular clusters. While through lenses and mirrors these conglomerations of stars are beautiful, when looked upon by the unaided eye, they appear solely as dots of light, indistinguishable from closer stars and planets. As the winter months approach and the cold drains the distortion from the skies, a familiar open cluster rises to the East.
Unlike the much more massive globular variety, open clusters are much younger and several orders of magnitude closer and due to their proximity to our solar system, these can appear as tight clusters of young stars. Of these, the Pleiades, one of the most magnificent clusters in the northern hemisphere, takes the spotlight in the late fall and continues making an appearance until the late spring. This cluster has been identified since the dawn of mankind and is one of the most referenced stellar features outside of our own solar system. It is thought that the stars in this group are young at the age of around 100 million years. Even without a telescope upwards of 14 of these stars can be seen on a clear night and during the most pristine nights a faint blue aura can be seen surrounding these stars. The best part is that these stars do not require a powerful telescope; in fact the best method of viewing is through the much wider field of a set of binoculars.
In order to find this cluster, around nine o’ clock at night, head outside and look directly east and up around 45 degrees. The cluster can be best identified by the five or six bright stars grouped together in a tight formation. As the winter months progress, the cluster will rise higher every night until December when it is high overhead. As this group is close and young, like many of the other stars, over time it will wander, making the skies unique and breathtaking for generations to come. Along with other features such as the Orion nebula and Andromeda, the Pleiades make the fall, winter, and spring the best time for an amateur astronomer to explore the cosmos.
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