Glossary term: Open Cluster

Description: Open clusters are clusters of stars found in our Milky Way and other galaxies. They are thought to be the result of a single star formation event and can consist of many hundreds or even thousands of stars. Open clusters are much less tightly gravitationally bound than globular clusters and, in the Milky Way, are typically found in the galactic disk. This loose binding means that over the course of hundreds of millions of years open clusters gradually dissolve into the general stellar population of the Milky Way. As groups of stars who all share a common age, open clusters make ideal laboratories to study stellar evolution. The Pleiades is perhaps the most famous open cluster in the sky.

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Term and definition status: This term and its definition have been approved by a research astronomer and a teacher

The OAE Multilingual Glossary is a project of the IAU Office of Astronomy for Education (OAE) in collaboration with the IAU Office of Astronomy Outreach (OAO). The terms and definitions were chosen, written and reviewed by a collective effort from the OAE, the OAE Centers and Nodes, the OAE National Astronomy Education Coordinators (NAECs) and other volunteers. You can find a full list of credits here. All glossary terms and their definitions are released under a Creative Commons CC BY-4.0 license and should be credited to "IAU OAE".

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A cluster of brilliant blue stars illuminate the surrounding nebular gas.

The Pleiades M45 with Majestic Dust

Caption: Honourable mention in the 2022 IAU OAE Astrophotography Contest, category Still images of celestial patterns.   Taken in Dar Eid in Saint Catherine/Sinai, Egypt, in October 2021, this image shows the Pleiades, an open cluster also known as The Seven Sisters. The Pleiades are located in the north-western part of the constellation Taurus, the Bull. This constellation originates from ancient Babylonian or even Sumerian belief, where it was designated the Bull of Heaven, a mighty creature owned by the sky god. In Late Babylonian times, the Pleiades were called The Bristle at the hunchback of The Bull. In China, the asterism is also called The Hair, but this does not necessarily imply any relationship between the East Asian and West Asian names of this asterism, although exchange is hypothesised with the establishment of the Silk Road. In ancient Babylonian texts the term The Hair does not appear. Instead, the Pleiades are only called The Star Cluster in Sumerian, and the Sumerian term was used in later languages as a loanword. The Sumerian and early Babylonian religion associated all constellations with specific deities, including gods, demons, messengers of gods. The Star Cluster was associated with a deity of the Netherworld that was called The Seven and was considered an ensemble of seven speaking weapons or strongly armed gods. The later Greek name of the Seven Sisters might possibly have sprung from an intercultural misunderstanding of this older religious association, since, in fact, seven stars are not seen in this cluster. The star cluster of the Pleiades is really prominent in the sky, and thus was used for several cultural purposes, such as determining the calendar and the spring equinox. However, its significance is frequently overstated in cultural astronomy. As the tradition of representing it with seven dots originates from an ancient Sumerian belief, we should be careful about interpreting any group of seven dots on cave walls and archaeological sites across Europe, Asia and America from the Stone Age onwards as a representation of the Pleiades. Modern astrophysics has found that the star cluster of the Pleiades is extraordinarily young, so there was certainly not an additional star in ancient times. Furthermore, we know that the bright stars are only the core region of an open star cluster that consists of hundreds of stars scattered over an area of the sky which exceeds the bright core by one or two of its diameters in any direction. The photograph does not even show the whole cluster. The group is thought to be about 400 light-years away from Earth, which is relatively close in astronomical terms.
Credit: Mohamed Usama/IAU OAE

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