Many a night I saw the Pleiads, rising thro’ the mellow shade,
Glitter like a swarm of fireflies tangled in a silver braid. — Alfred, Lord Tennyson
I have my grandparents to thank for the appreciation I have for the night sky, a living wonder that so many now take for granted. Back in the 50’s my grandparents belonged to a chapter of the Sky and Telescope Society that made telescopes and studied the heavens above.
If we had to list our favorite wonders there, I have no doubt our lists would vary. Here are my favorite three things I can see with the naked eye. With a telescope I think the planets and their moons are the ultimate, especially the rings of Saturn. But I don’t use the telescope much, and since I live on a country road with no light posts, I see a wonderful array of visuals when it’s crisp and clear here up north.
Nevertheless, wherever I am, the three things I most quickly identify with are the constellations Orion, Cassiopeia and the Pleiades. The Pleadies are especially fun, if you please. You probably know Orion. It’s the Hunter who appears in the fall and glides along the southern perimeter of the winter night sky. And Cassiopeia is the semi-large “W’ that you see pretty much year ‘round, usually to the northeast.
What I like about the Pleiades is their subtlety. They are not that easy to see, yet are always there, twinkling, glittering as it were, like a sparkling light show.
I used to think the Pleiades (plea-uh-deez) was a group of seven stars, but have since learned they are many.
They are evidently 440 light years from Earth. Though they appear to be a cluster of stars all dancing with one another, they are actually about seven light years apart from one another. And even though they are not very bright to us here, they are from forty to a thousand times brighter than our Sun, which means from there we are pretty much non-existent.
You may recognize the names of these original seven sisters: Alcyone, Atlas, Electra, Maia, Merope, Taygeta and Pleione. All are visible to the keen naked eye. But there’s much more there than meets the eye.
Here’s a poem I wrote as a tribute to the Seven Sisters, inspired by the tune “I Dreamed I Saw St. Augustine” (Dylan) which is a variant of the Union song “Joe Hill” which was popularized by Joan Baez, among others.
I dreamed I saw the Pleiades alive as you or me…
alive with incandescent light
searching for infinity,
flick’ring soft in the dark winter night
in glorious tranquility.
Do you have a favorite constellation or image from the night sky?
Do feel free to share.
Originally published at pioneerproductions.blogspot.com