Monday, November 24, 2008

Planets in Taurus - 2000 and Planets in Sagittarius - 2008

I am putting this image here to show a few things: First, this shows the Plieades star cluster more like what you would see it with our unaided eyes, instead of the long exposure image in the previous post. But even this is a little misleading, because the camera sees a lot more stars than our eyes. Also called the Seven Sisters, most people can only see 6 out of the 7 stars. People with really good eyesight can see up to 10 stars. Go out about an hour after the sun sets and look to the East. How many stars can you see? Then think about how far away they are. One of the closest star clusters to us, it is 440 light years away.
Everytime I see this wonderful cluster it reminds me of a line from a poem by Alfred Tennyson:
"Many a night I saw the Pleiads, rising thro' the mellow shade,Glitter like a swarm of fireflies tangled in a silver braid."
The second thing this photo shows is another star cluster. The Hyades star cluster is a much more spread out cluster just East of the Plieades. It's brightest members form a sideways letter "V". The bright red giant star, Aldeberan, is at the end of one of the legs of the "V". Even though the Hyades is the closest star cluster to us (151 light years away), Aldeberan is even closer and not part of the cluster.
Finally, the two bright stars in the photo are really planets, Jupiter and Saturn. The picture was taken in October 2000, so you won't see these planets anywhere near this part of the sky (the constellation Taurus). Jupiter is now in Sagittarius, in the southwest just after sunset. Saturn is now in Leo, and rises in the East about 1 o'clock in the morning.
While you are out looking at the Plieades in the East, turn around and you'll find Jupiter along with brighter Venus. Watch these two planets from day to day getting closer to each other and on December 1, a beautiful crescent Moon will form a wonderful trio right after sunset. With any luck and clear skies I'll have a photo of the event on this blog.

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