Monday night, myself and Mr 0tralala braved the cold to make some astronomical observations. Were taking the GCSE in Astronomy at the moment, spending two hours a week at the Royal Observatory, Greenwich for lessons. The coursework deadline is rapidly approaching and it doesn’t help that our endeavours have been hampered by the British winter weather – lots of cloud.
But Monday was clear. We’ve also managed to find a nearby spot which is relatively free of street lamps, even if you can’t escape London’s appalling light pollution entirely.
The pointers we’ve been learning about in class also worked perfectly. Orion, the Hunter is really easy to find in the winter sky, and from his belt it’s a short hop to the red star Aldebaran - the eye of Taurus the bull. Following the line a bit further takes you to M45, better known as The Pleiades or The Seven Sisters.
To the naked eye, especially in South London, they look like a fuzzy blob but it’s the first time I had found them and was really chuffed. Then I got out my binoculars. They are only small, with objective lenses of 25mm, so not perfect for night-use but the view was still stunning. This was the first time I’ve seen The Pleiades live rather than in pictures and could easily make-out the group of six brightest stars as well as many others.
That brings me to another point – six brightest stars? But these are the Seven Sisters. Where is number seven? Even in professional photographs, there are certainly six conspicuously bright stars. According to Wikipedia, the nine brightest stars are named for the daughters of the Titan Atlas, from Greek myth along with Atlas himself and their mother Pleione. So that’s now nine stars, all very confusing, especially as numbers seven to nine appear to be randomly assigned from a plethora of choices.
Somehow, I think that’s missing the point. Whatever the mythic origin of the name, they are still a stunning sight.