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Messier 45, the Pleiades in the Constellation Taurus
 

 
Description of object:

The Pleiades - also called the Atlantiads, the Atlantiads and the Seven Sisters - is an open star cluster, already visible with the naked eye in the constellation of Taurus. In the Messier catalogue it is called M 45, named after the Pleiades from Greek mythology.

The 7 brightest stars are named after figures from Greek mythology, the Titan Atlas (hence Atlantides), his wife Pleione and their seven daughters Alkyone, Asterope, Celaeno, Elektra, Maia, Merope and Taygete. The Pleiades, who can be classified as nymphs, raised Dionysus and Zeus together. According to mythology they were pursued by the sky hunter Orion. Zeus moved the Pleiades to the sky as a constellation, but even there they are still pursued by Orion, whose constellation is located about 30° southeast of the Pleiades.

In the NGC catalogue the Pleiades are not listed separately, but there are several reflection nebulae with their own NGC numbers in the Pleiades area. These include the Maja Nebula (NGC 1432) and the Merope Nebula (NGC 1435). Only about half a minute of arc from Merope is a concentration of interstellar dust known as IC 349 or Barnard's Merope Nebula.
 
The Pleiades appear with an extension of about 2° about four times as large as the moon seen with the naked eye. The star cluster is about 445 light years away from the solar system and contains at least 1200 stars which are on average about 125 million years old. Thus it is one of the youngest open star clusters in our Milky Way and due to its proximity to the solar system also one of the best explored.

In many prehistoric cultures the Pleiades were considered a special asterism. For example, a group of six drawn points in the caves of Lascaux is interpreted as a representation of the Pleiades.

A very important object from Central Europe, probably used for astronomy, is the so-called Nebra Sky Disk. A group of seven closely spaced points are identified as the Pleiades. Here you will find a comprehensive article in german language (information in english language) on the astronomical interpretation of the Nebra Sky Disk. It is dated to an age between 3700 and 4100 years.


« The Nebra Sky Disc. Credit: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Nebra_Scheibe.jpg


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