Tuesday, April 29, 2014

How the Pleiades Shaped Civilization

How the Pleiades Shaped Civilization

Every week, Becky Ferreira, your hostess with the cosmostest, hones in on the most important science and history topics the hit show Cosmos glosses over. Previously: What the World Actually Looked Like on the Day Creationists Say It All Began.

Last night's episode of Cosmos was called “Sisters of the Sun," a title that works on a few levels. The most obvious interpretation refers to the stars born in the same “litter” as the Sun, whose fates astronomers have been trying pin down for years. Needless to say, rooting these stars out is like finding needles in a galactic haystack, and the search may be inherently quixotic.

On a less literal level, Cosmos finally elevated the work of female astronomers like Annie Jump Cannon, Henrietta Swan Leavitt, and Cecelia Payne-Gaposchkin. It doesn't make up for the glaring omission of Caroline Herschel back in the fourth episode, but it was a great snapshot of the Harvard College Observatory's sisterhood of astronomers.

Even so, there is no doubt that the real stars of this episode were the Pleiades—the ultimate stellar sisters. Bright, distinctive, and visible in both the Northern and Southern hemispheres, the Pleiades have had an enormous impact on human cultures across the globe. You'd be hard-pressed to find a constellation with more mythological gravitas, not to mention that the legends behind the cluster often have important astronomical observations embedded in their details.

For the rest of the story: http://motherboard.vice.com/read/how-the-pleiades-shaped-civilization

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