Friday, January 8, 2016

Peeping on the Hyades


Lately I've had a good view of Orion, Taurus, Scorpio, and a handful of other constellations. I look at them on my way home if I'm out at night. If I lived in an area with less urbanized lighting I'd be able to see more.
That being said, I was looking at the sky, and saw a cluster in Taurus. I wasn't sure what it was at first, so I looked it up on wiki when I came home. I used a star chart of Taurus to find out I'd seen the Hyades, which are 150 light years away.

The fact that I could use my tablet to look it up, and identify it, astounds me. Astronomers of the past did not have such easy tools to find objects, and their names. They may of had charts, or would have to make their own. I remember using a glow-in-the-dark "star wheel" when I was a kid. This is so much easier.

I was happy to find out that they still make those plastic star wheels. My father had an old one from the 80's, which he once remarked, "Must be really out of date." Well, not for the next 100 million years at least. The stars are moving, but not that fast! 

As for the Hyades themselves, Messier never cataloged them, so they lack "M" numbers. Instead, they are identified by the tried and true magnitude, and the Greek alphabet. Kappa Tauri, Gamma Tauri, Delta Tauri. They all sound like sorority and fraternity houses. One wonders how many gold fish you'd have to swallow to get into them! 


In mythology, the Hyades were the sisters of Atlas (that dude they named the map after). They were also the half-sisters of the more famous Pleiades (who also have a clustered named in their honor). It seems that in mythology the family tree really didn't fork much. They are rather like telephone poles. The Hyades themselves were nymphs, whose name means, "The Rainy Ones." This is derived from the myth that they cried incessantly when their brother, Hyas was killed in a hunting accident. They have since been associated with rainfall. 

Watery nymphs? If you thought astronomy was a bunch of late nights staring at heavenly bodies, you'd be right! 

Though astronomer Giovanni Batista Hodierna first cataloged them, the Hyades were known to ancient authors such as Homer (D'Oh!) and Ovid. And since then they have taken on a life of their own. 

Astronomers have looked at them for thousands of years. I'm just one of many. There are many more to come. 

Text copyright Mr. Joyce 2016

Images: Wikipedia. 

Hylas and the Nymphs by John William Waterhouse, 1896