The Hyades Cluster of Taurus
The most famous cluster in Taurus is probably the Pleiades, the tiny dipper-shaped collection of stars above the head of Taurus the Bull. Through binoculars, the view of the Pleiades explodes from six into dozens of stars.
But a much larger star cluster resides nearby and is even easier to see. The head of the bull itself is a star cluster known as the Hyades. Taurus’s head is marked by a V-shape of stars that lies on its side. This V-shape is rather easy to pick out in the night sky, just below the Pleiades star cluster.
The Hyades is a group of 300 to 400 stars that lies about 151 light-years away from us, making it the nearest open cluster to Earth. With the unaided eye under moderately good seeing conditions, the main stars an observer will see are the five that mark the two sides and juncture of the V-shape.
The five brightest stars in the Hyades are all red giants, but you’ll notice one of the stars shines much brighter than the others. The brightest star in Hyades (and in the constellation Taurus) is Aldebaran, which marks the top left side of the bull’s head. Although it is also a red giant star, Aldebaran looks markedly brighter than the others in the group; therefore it is no surprise to learn that Aldebaran is not a member of the cluster but a star that happens to lie in the same line of sight. Aldebaran lies two-and-a-half times closer to Earth at 65 light-years distant.
The name Hyades comes from Greek mythology. The Hyades were five daughters of Atlas and half-sisters to the Pleiades. Their name means “rainy ones” and their appearance marked the beginning of the rainy season for some lands.
-- Kelly Kizer Whitt loves clean, clear, and dark skies. Kelly studied English and Astronomy at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and worked for Astronomy magazine. She is currently the Feature Writer for Astronomy and Space at Suite101.com. You can follow her on Twitter at twitter.com/Astronomommy.