New- Star Chart For Cayman

A new feature as of June 2015 has been added - look at the bottom of this web page and there is a new Star Chart exclusively for Grand Cayman

Pedro Castle, March 29th, 7.00 p.m.

The Pleiades, known as the Seven Sisters, will be close to the crescent Moon on the 29th March . This is a nearby, fairly loose open cluster of about 500 stars in the constellation Taurus. Although it is also known as the Seven Sisters, most people can see only six stars, all of them bright blue-white B or Be stars: Alcyone, Atlas, Electra, Maia, Merope, and Taygeta (Pleione is the seventh brightest).
Dust that forms a faint reflection nebulosity around the brightest stars was thought at first to be left over from the formation of the cluster (hence the alternate name Maia Nebula after the star Maia), but is now known to be an unrelated dust cloud in the interstellar medium that the stars are currently passing through. Astronomers estimate that the cluster will survive for about another 250 million years, after which it will disperse due to gravitational interactions with its galactic neighborhood.
They have long been known to be a physically related group of stars rather than any chance alignment. The Reverend John Michell calculated in 1767 that the probability of a chance alignment of so many bright stars was only 1 in 500,000, and so correctly surmised that the Pleiades and many other clusters of stars must be physically related. When studies were first made of the stars' proper motions, it was found that they are all moving in the same direction across the sky, at the same rate, further demonstrating that they were related.
The distance to the Pleiades is an important first step in the so-called cosmic distance ladder, a sequence of distance scales for the whole universe. The size of this first step calibrates the whole ladder, and the scale of this first step has been estimated by many methods. As the cluster is so close to the Earth, its distance is relatively easy to measure. Accurate knowledge of the distance allows astronomers to plot a Hertzsprung-Russell diagram for the cluster which, when compared to those plotted for clusters whose distance is not known, allows their distances to be estimated. Other methods can then extend the distance scale from open clusters to galaxies and clusters of galaxies, and a cosmic distance ladder can be constructed. Ultimately astronomers' understanding of the age and future evolution of the universe is influenced by their knowledge of the distance to the Pleiades.
The nine brightest stars of the Pleiades are named for the Seven Sisters of Greek mythology: Sterope, Merope, Electra, Maia, Taygete, Celaeno, and Alcyone, along with their parents Atlas and Pleione.
The Pleiades are a prominent sight in winter in the Northern Hemisphere and in summer in the Southern Hemisphere, and have been known since antiquity to cultures all around the world, including the Māori and Australian Aborigines, the Persians (who called them Parveen/parvin), the Chinese, the Maya (who called them Tzab-ek), the Aztec (Tianquiztli), and the Sioux of North America. Some Greek astronomers considered them to be a distinct constellation, and they are mentioned by Hesiod, and in Homer's Iliad and Odyssey. They are also mentioned three times in the Bible (Job 9:9 and 38:31, as well as Amos 5:8). The Pleiades (Krittika) are particularly revered in Hindu mythology as the six mothers of the war god Skanda, who developed six faces, one for each of them. Some scholars of Islam suggested that the Pleiades (At-thuraiya) are the Star in Najm which is mentioned in the Quran.
Saturn is risen in the east (magnitude +0.5, near the hind foot of Leo) and is just past opposition. The planet is well up in the southeast by midevening, and highest in the south around midnight. Don't confuse Saturn with slightly fainter Regulus 18° (nearly two fist-widths at arm's length) to its upper right in early evening, and more directly to Saturn's right late at night.
Saturn's rings are 3½° from edge on. The rings will open to 4° by late May, then will close to exactly edge-on next September 4th — when, unfortunately, Saturn will be out of sight practically in conjunction with the Sun.

March 2nd 2009

The revolution of the Moon around the Earth makes the Moon appear as if it is changing shape in the sky. This is caused by the different angles from which we see the bright part of the Moon's surface. These are called "phases" of the Moon. Of course, the Moon doesn't generate any light itself; it just reflects the light of the Sun. The Moon passes through four major shapes during a cycle that repeats itself every 29.5 days. The phases always follow one another in the same order.
Although this cycle is a continuous process, there are eight distinct, traditionally recognized stages, called phases. The phases designate both the degree to which the Moon is illuminated and the geometric appearance of the illuminated part. These phases of the Moon, in the sequence of their occurrence (starting from New Moon), are listed below.
(1) New Moon - When the Moon is roughly in the same direction as the Sun, its illuminated half is facing away from the Earth, and therefore the part that faces us is all dark: we have the new moon. When in this phase, the Moon and the Sun rise and set at about the same time. (2) Waxing Crescent Moon - As the Moon moves around the Earth, we get to see more and more of the illuminated half, and we say the Moon is waxing. At first we get a sliver of it, which grows as days go by. This phase is called the crescent moon. (3) Quarter Moon - A week after the new moon, when the Moon has completed about a quarter of its turn around the Earth, we can see half of the illuminated part; that is, a quarter of the Moon. This is the first quarter phase. (4) Waxing Gibbous Moon - During the next week, we keep seeing more and more of the illuminated part of the Moon, and it is now called waxing gibbous (gibbous means "humped"). (5) Full Moon - Two weeks after the new moon, the moon is now halfway through its revolution, and now the illuminated half coincides with the one facing the Earth, so that we can see a full disk: we have a full moon. As mentioned above, at this time the Moon rises at the time the Sun sets, and it sets when the Sun rises. If the Moon happens to align exactly with the Earth and Sun, then we get a lunar eclipse. (6) Waning Gibbous Moon - From now on, until it becomes new again, the illuminated part of the Moon that we can see decreases, and we say it's waning. The first week after full, it is called waning gibbous. (7) Last Quarter Moon - Three weeks after new, we again can see half of the illuminated part. This is usually called last quarter. (8) Waning Crescent Moon - Finally, during the fourth week, the Moon is reduced to a thin sliver from us, sometimes called waning crescent. A while after four weeks (29.5 days, more precisely) the illuminated half of the Moon again faces away from us, and we come back to the beginning of the cycle: a new moon. Sometimes, when the Moon is almost new, it is possible to dimly see its darkened disk. The light from the Sun cannot reach this part of the Moon directly; but at this time the Earth (as viewed from the Moon) is at its full and very bright, and what we see is light reflected from the Earth, that then bounces back at us from the Moon. It's a long trip for this light: from the Sun to the Earth, to the Moon, and back to the Earth, about 480,000 miles in total.
Venus (visible in the west) is the next closest visible heavenly body, but it is never closer than 25,000,000 miles from the earth. The moon appears to be as large as it is because of its closeness, but it is comparatively small since it is only a quarter of the diameter of the earth.
The sun is a hundred times the diameter of the earth, but it is also about 93,000,000 miles away. It just happens that size and distance cancel each other and both the sun and the moon appear to be the same size. Although the moon is moving from west to east, the earth's spin overtakes it and makes it seem to move from east to west. It appears to "rise" in the east, moves westward, and "sets" in the west.