Thursday, March 06, 2014

Deep and dusty

Which is best for a beach bonfire? Full moon? Or moonless night?

There's something magical about moonlight on the sea. Something that invites a swim. And romance.

But then –- there's the myriad of stars and the Milky Way you can see on a moonless night. "What's that?" a neighbor asks, pointing to the Pleiades, shining with a special brightness.

"How many stars do you see?" I ask. They are called 'the Seven Sisters.""

"Six." "And I tell the story of the missing Pleiad, snatched away by one of the seven brothers of Ursa Major.

"There are actually more than a thousand stars in the cluster, only six of which are bright enough to be reliably seen with the naked eye. The most I have seen without optical aid is nine, when my eyes were younger and sharper, under a sky of exceptional darkness and clarity.

"Where is the missing Pleiad now?" "Just rising." I show her the Big Dipper standing on its handle in the northeast, with brother Mizar and little kidnapee Alcor.

What I can't show her is the dust cloud that is passing through he Pleiades, being pushed into wisps and streamers by the pressure of starlight.

(I won't be here tomorrow. Electrical work on house. Internet down.)