Patterns in the sky

The Pleiadas, M45
The Seven Sisters, a magnificent star cluster and a herald of the fast approaching colder winter nights

Since time immemorial people have looked up at the night sky and tried to make sense of, and understand it. Pinpricks of light twinkling and glittering. Bright stars that seem to form patterns with neighbouring stars. Harvests were made, seeds planted and fields ploughed on the rising and setting of particular patterns. These patterns are what we call constellations. In simpler times, people spent more of their lives outside, were closer to nature, and so it is easy to understand how these stellar patterns held a special significance for cultures all over the world.

Amongst the heavens people placed their creation myths, tales of gods and demons, kings, queens, hunters and animals; and as civilisation progressed, tools of navigation and discovery, the sextant, octant, telescope and microscope all found a place in the heavens. There was no right and wrong and constellations evolved and changed as did the people who created them.

In 1922 the international Astronomical Union formally divided up the sky into 88 fixed constellations, each with their own defined part of the sky. People no longer use constellations as guides for when to plant or harvest, but they can still be used as a marker of time. As the Earth sweeps out its yearly orbit around the Sun, the stars above change above from season to season.

For me, my first glance every year at the star cluster the Pleiades or Seven Sisters, in the constellation of Taurus is like the return of an old friend, heralding a return to colder autumn evenings and the passing of summer. Keep an eye out in the north-east and see if you can spot it. If you have binoculars handy, point them at it and enjoy a fine view of a young star cluster.  Why not see if you can make your own patterns amongst the stars, or indeed learn some constellations and keep track of them in the coming months and years.