Astronomy Viewing the Pleiades in June

The Story of The Pleiades – How to Prounce Them – How To Look For Them In The Night Sky wth the Kids.

Here is an entrancing tale, and dazzling image to help make the most of this month’s Pleiades show with kids. (Pronounced, for starters, PLY-A-DEES.) This is a great time to get kids interested in the fascinating science of Astronomy – and there wont be another opportunity to see this particular combination, including 5 planets, until 2036 so why not really make the most of it? Maybe even “push the boat out” and borrow or buy some binoculars or a telescope?

On the morning of June 13, if you live in the Western US, you should be able to see the crescent of the thin Moon, waning and hiding (occult) a few of the Pleiades stars. The show will go on for a few days, with different movements to see each day, an impressive total of 5 planets in all! So what can we tell the kids about the Pleiades and where can they find out more and see the best image?

Perhaps it would be inspiring to start with the rich colourful treasury of myth, legend and history behind the Pleiades and how they got their name. This is the tale I told my kids, one sultry summer night when the velvet air was warm with honeysuckle and carried the notes of my daughters guitar to me from within the tent behind. In the darkening violet sky, the ice-blue diamonds of the Pleiades glittered – the most famous of all star clusters, youngish though it is at only 100 million years old.

Once upon a time, I began, there were Seven Sisters, nymphs and followers of Artemis the huntress. Orion, transfixed by the unearthly beauty of each one, was entranced by them and having fallen deeply in love, began his courtship chase. But, keeping a watchful eye on her precious charges was Artemis! She decided to intervene to protect them from the advances of Orion. Gently, she plucked each one and placed her safely out of reach, among the glittering stars, which were so infinite in number that Orion could not find them, the objects of his love. Broken-hearted and shedding his tears into the heavens, he still searches for them in vain until this day.

One sister, Electra is even harder to spot than all the others. Legend has it that she hides her face so as not to see the ruinous end of her son Dardanus’ creation – the City of Troy! However, another legend says that the missing sister is the blushing Merope – hiding her head in shame for choosing a mere mortal as her husband. Maybe we could ask the kids which one they think it is?

If the kids enjoy the story and it has inspired them to see the Pleiades, it may be useful to show them a dazzling image of what they are looking for. The sources are …

IMAGE (Pleiades)

BOOK “The Monthly Sky Guide” CUP (Ridpath and Tirion)