Seeing Venus outshine everything else in the evening sky these days, it’s not hard to understand why the ancient Greeks associated it with Aphrodite, their goddess of beauty. Next week, she visits a family of sisters also renowned for their exceptional allure.
According to myth, Atlas, the titan sentenced to an eternity of holding up the heavens for waging war against the Olympians for dominion over the universe, fathered many children. Among them were the Pleiades, seven beautiful daughters. As is often the case in Greek mythology, there are conflicting myths of how they became stars.
In one version, they were transformed into doves so they could escape the unwanted attention of the brash hunter, Orion, who still pursues them westward across the sky. In another, their stars were placed in the firmament to commemorate their tragic suicides, to which they were driven by their father’s cruel fate.
The Pleiades — “Seven Sisters” — star cluster resembles a tiny dipper, low in the west around 9:45 p.m., almost directly above Venus. Officially, they’re part of Taurus, the Bull, whose red eye (“Aldebaran”) lies between them and Orion’s famous belt, to the left. In a binocular or telescope, many more pleiads appear beyond those visible to the naked eye (named after the sisters, their mother, and their father).
Keep an eye on Venus, because for the next week it steadily closes the gap with the Pleiades. On Friday, April 3, Venus lies among the Pleiades, a golden opportunity for casual observers and astrophotographers alike.
Don’t miss it! Venus won’t have such a close visit with the daughters of Atlas for eight years (to the day — due to the coincidence that Venus orbits almost exactly 13 times every eight years).
Next column: Will a bright comet grace the evening sky this spring?
Chris Anderson manages the College of Southern Idaho’s Centennial Observatory in Twin Falls. He can be reached at 732-6663 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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