Easily visible to the unaided eye, the Pleiades are sometimes mistakenly referred to as the "little dipper" - and they do have a dipperish shape, but the actual little dipper is some sixty degrees to the north, not part of Taurus at all. A more proper nickname for the Pleiades is the "seven sisters". As you can see, all seven - plus a few cousins - have names. Can you spot them in binoculars, and recite their names?
times, the cluster was considered to have a magical tie
to the spring season, which is when the sun is in this
part of the sky; thus, the Pleiades earned names like
"the stars of abundance", "the stars of the season of
blossoms" etc. In Europe, they are traditionally viewed
as stars signalling the beginning of the safe navigation
season and thus are the "sailor's stars". To native
Americans, these seven were maidens that ran to the sky
to escape a marauding bear; the striking Devil's Tower
in Wyoming was raised for them to use as a ladder in
this legend, and the mountain's ragged sides still have
the scars of his frustrated claws.
Today, most stargazers can spot six of the sisters - and the fact that cultures have always counted seven has astronomers wondering if one of them has dimmed slightly. But sharp-eyed folks today might see eleven or so; and with binoculars, in excess of fifty more. Under dark skies, telescopes can spot several hundred! Suprisingly, large telescopes and high magnifications are not much use here, because the cluster is so large that viewing a small piece of it ruins the impression. Telescopes are really best used for viewing some of the faint wisps of nebulosity that surround the cluster, especially around the star Merope.