The Leonid meteor shower has come and gone, but there’s plenty going on this week to keep stargazers looking up. This Friday night, on November 20, the Pleiades star cluster will reach its highest point in the night sky before making its way back towards the horizon.
While the Pleiades are often mistaken for the Little Dipper, the star cluster is usually found by looking further south, above the bright orange star Aldebaran. One of the best ways to find the star cluster is actually to look towards Orion, Alan MacRobert reports for Sky & Telescope.
In the Northern Hemisphere, the Pleiades hangs out high above the hunter, with orange Aldebaran smack in between the two constellations. Typically, the Pleiades will start rising around 7 P.M.
The Pleiades will be visible through next April, but in the Northern Hemisphere the star cluster is closely tied to the beginning of winter, with some referring to November as “the month of the Pleiades,” according to EarthSky.org’s Bruce McClure, when the star cluster shines brightly from dusk until dawn.
The name comes from figures in Greek mythology: The Pleiades were originally the seven daughters of the Titan Atlas, but Zeus turned them into stars after they begged to be saved from Orion the hunter, astronomer Steven J. Gibson writes for the Arecibo Observatory. After Orion died, he was transformed into a constellation, chasing the Seven Sisters through the skies forever.
While the Pleiades may take their name from Greek mythology, the stars had an important place in many ancient cultures across the world. McClure writes that Halloween is partly derived from a Druidic ritual that celebrated the Pleiades rise and marked a time when the borders between the worlds of the living and dead became blurry.
On the other side of the world, the Zuni people of modern-day New Mexico called the star cluster “The Seed Stars,” as their disappearance from the sky marked the beginning of their growing season.
In a way, the Pleiades are actually sisters—not only are the stars positioned fairly close to one another, but they were born out of the same dust cloud about 100 million years ago, McClure writes. While the seven stars shine the brightest, they are just several of a star cluster that numbers in the hundreds about 430 million light years away.
Editor's Note: Pleiades was mistakenly called a "constellation" in the original version of this article. However, changes were made to show that Pleiades is not a true constellation, but rather is a star cluster in the constellation Taurus.