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| Space on Sep 14, 2006

Why just six stars in the ‘Seven Sisters?’

Depictions of the Pleiades often show just six stars because, with the eye alone, most people see only six stars here.

The Pleiades – also known as the ‘Seven Sisters’ – is an asterism or distinctive pattern of stars in the constellation Taurus. It looks like a tiny misty dipper. Some people confuse the Pleiades with the real Little Dipper asterism in the northern sky. But the pattern of the Pleiades is much smaller than the Little Dipper. Also, the Dipper stays in the north – while the Pleiades travels from east to west across our sky on a path not unlike our sun.

Depictions of the Pleiades often show just six stars because, with the eye alone, most people see only six stars here. According to Greek legend, the seven sisters were the daughters of Atlas, who was said to carry the sky on his shoulders. Because most people see six stars, there are legends about the “lost” Pleiad. One sister is sometimes said to have veiled her face after the destruction of Troy. Another is said to have been struck by lightning. Still another is said to have hidden in shame after she married a mortal.

If you turned telescope on this region of space, you’d see more than six or seven stars here. There are really several hundred stars in the Pleiades star cluster – bound together by gravity.