Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 32.djvu/535

From Wikisource
Jump to: navigation, search
This page has been validated.
521
ASTRONOMY WITH AN OPERA-GLASS.

resented too large in the picture. It requires a sharp eye to see Pleione without a glass, while Atlas is plainly visible to the unaided vision, and is always counted among the naked-eye Pleiades, although it does not bear the name of one of the mythological sisters, but that of their father. The bright star below and to the right of Alcyone is Merope; the one near the right-hand edge of the picture, about on a level with Alcyone, is Electra. Above, or to the north of Electra, are two bright stars lying in a line pointing toward Alcyone; the upper one of these, or the one farthest from Alcyone, is Taygeta, and the other is Maia. Above Taygeta and Maia, and forming a little triangle with them, is a pair of stars which bears the name of Asterope. About half-way between Taygeta and Electra, and directly above the latter is Celæno.

The naked-eye observer will probably find it difficult to decide which he can detect the more easily, Celæno or Pleione, while he will discover that Asterope, although composed of two stars, as seen with a glass, is so faint as to be much more difficult than either Celæno or Pleione. Unless, as is not improbable, the names have become interchanged in the course of centuries, the brightness of these stars would seem to have undergone remarkable changes. The star of Merope, it will be remembered, was fabled to have become faint, or disappeared, because she married a mortal. At present Merope is one of those that can be plainly seen with the naked eye, while the star of Asterope, who was said to have had the god Mars for her spouse, has faded away until only a glass can show it. It would appear, then, that notwithstanding an occasional temporary eclipse, it is, in the long run, better to marry a plain mortal than a god—or a lord. Electra, too, who hid her fair eyes at the sight of burning Troy, seems to have recovered from her fright, and at present is, next to Alcyone, the brightest star in the cluster. But however we may regard those changes in the brightness of the Pleiades which are based upon tradition, there is no doubt that well-attested changes have taken place in the comparative brilliancy of stars in this cluster since astronomy has become an exact science.

Observations of the proper motions of the Pleiades have shown that there is an actual physical connection between them; that they are, literally speaking, a flight of suns. Their common motion is toward the southwest under the impulse of forces that remain as yet beyond the grasp of human knowledge. Alcyone was selected by Mädler as the central sun around which the whole starry system revolved, but later investigations have shown that his speculation was not well founded, and that, so far as we can determine, the proper motions of the stars are not such as to indicate the existence of any common center. They appear to be flying with different velocities in every direction, although—as in the case of the Pleiades——we often find groups of them associated together in a common direction of flight.