The Pleiades Star Cluster Phenomenon

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John Hart

ENGL 106


The Pleiades

The remarkable continuity of cross cultural interpretation

One of the nearest star clusters to the earth is The Pleiades. "Of all the open clusters, the Pleiades is the best known and perhaps the most thoroughly studied. This cluster, with a diameter of 35 light-years at a distance of 380 light-years, is composed of about 500 stars and is 100 million years old."� Coincidentally, all seven stars are traveling in the same direction at matching speeds, which explains why the constellation has been around for millions of years in the same formation.� Pleiades is also unique because of its blue and extremely luminous color. This star cluster appears in mythology and literature all over the world. (See Appendix A)

The annual motion of the cluster rising at dawn, during springtime in the northern hemisphere, has from ancient times, marked the opening of the seafaring and farming season.

Its rising position in the autumn also marks the season's end.� It's no surprise that Pleiades is important to many cultures across the world, but why are its myths so similar cross culturally as well? Cultures from Australia, Europe, Asia, and the Americas all have oddly similar interpretations of these seven stars. Each myth consistently describes the journey of seven sisters as they ultimately escape from imminent danger into the sky.

The Greek interpretation is the most famous, where the seven sisters are Maia, Electra, Alcyone, Taygete, Asterope, Celaeno, and Merope. After their father, Atlas, is forced to eternally separate the heavens from the earth the sisters are left unguarded. The giant hunter, Orion, sees the seven sisters bathing in a spring while walking through the forest. Captured by their beauty, he begins a furtive pursuit. The sisters sense his presents and six flee to the heavens,