Dazzling bright Jupiter and the Pleiades star cluster are shining high in the southern sky after sunset. The Pleiades, one of the brightest and easily recognized star clusters for naked-eye observing, is a cluster of young stars that lie about 400 light-years from Earth. The hot, blue-white stars that make up this cluster are surrounded by wisps of gas that shine by reflected light from the stars. Because these stars formed from a great nebula only 100 million years ago, the gas and dust from that nebula still cling to them.
Although they are also called the "Seven Sisters," only six stars can be seen without an optical aide. Current astronomical studies reveal that between 300 and 500 stars populate this cluster. The outline of the six stars that make up the Pleiades resembles a tight little "teacup."
To locate the Pleiades, follow Orion's belt past Aldebaran to bright Jupiter. Continue that line another 8 degrees, and it will lead you to this stunning cluster of stars.
First Published February 4, 2013 5:00 AM