The sky at night

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The Independent Online
The compact ensemble of the Pleiades is the best known and most easily identifiable of all star clusters - a celestial "landmark" in the night skies of late autumn and winter. Records referring to them go back at least as far as 1000BC, and they merit three mentions in the Bible. "Can'st thou bind the sweet influences of the Pleiades or loose the bands of Orion?" questions Job (Ch 38, v 31). If you are in any doubt about locating the Pleiades, follow Orion's belt upwards, through Taurus. A pair of binoculars turned upon them should reveal 10 or 20 of the brightest members from a total of several hundred. On long exposure photographs, the Pleiades are seen to be embedded in a cloud of wispy interstellar gas, rendered visible by their starlight-like dust in a spotlight beam, but this faint nebulosity is not apparent to visual observers using modest binoculars or telescopes.

Jacqueline Mitton