Who hasn’t heard of the Seven Sisters,also known as the Pleiades? It’s the most beautiful star cluster and the most famous. It’s obvious to the naked eye and stunning through binoculars, and these nights it’s unusually easy to find.
Just go out between 8 and 9 p.m. and look around for the very brightest star. That’s dazzling Venus, which of course is really a planet. Just below Venus, there’s the Pleiades. Point your binoculars at it and instead of the usual six stars you’ll see dozens, and they’re all blue-white like diamonds.
In ancient times, the Pleiades had a strange sinister reputation. Such medieval rituals as the pagan Black Sabbath and All Hallow’s Eve (which evolved into our own Halloween) were set to occur on the date when the Pleiades reached their highest point at midnight. These fearsome rituals could have originated as a sort of commemoration of some ancient catastrophe that resulted in great loss of life. Some believe they may be linked to the Atlantis myth, a legend possibly stemming from the eruption of the Santorin Volcano in 1450 BC that devastated the Minoan civilization on nearby Crete.
The Pleiades were hugely important to civilizations throughout time and around the world. In Egypt they were revered as one of the forms of the goddess Isis. In Mayan and Aztec culture, city streets and pyramids were aligned with the setting of the Pleiades. In Japan, their ancient name is Subaru. And the company of the same name places a crude star map of the Pleiades on each of their cars.
So look below Venus the next clear night. You’ll see it easily enough, but again, the biggest thrill comes when binoculars are pointed their way. Take advantage of this rare alignment as their light completes their 400-year journey to your eyes — and enjoy the most famous cluster of suns in the known universe.