Welcome to http://www.handsonuniverse.org/activities/Explorations/PleiadesStars

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Pleiades Stars 

Star Light! How Bright?

Explore the Magnitude Scale!

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Background: All we know about stars is from star light! People have always noticed that some stars seem brighter than others. In the second century B.C., a Greek astronomer and mathematician named Hipparchus produced the first known catalog of star names and positions. He invented a scale with six categories to describe star brightness. He assigned each star a number value from 1 to 6 depending on how bright the star seemed to be in the sky. Star astronomers call these brightness categories, magnitudes.

Activity: Use Hands-On Universe image processing software and an image of the Pleiades Star Cluster to find brightness counts of the bright stars. Compare the brightness counts of the stars to their assigned magnitudes.

Challenge: Discover how astronomers arrange the magnitude scale to describe the brightness of stars!

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Look at the stars of the Pleiades.  Which star seems the brightest? ____________
Now let's measure the brightness of each star using Hands-On Universe software. 

A. Display the image of Pleiades.

Open Pleiades.fts  folder.jpg (1486 bytes) or  openimg.jpg (2587 bytes) .  Next, flip the image horizontally, change the color palette, and center the image to include all the bright stars. (See following instructions.)

fliphzok.jpg (8274 bytes) Go to the Manipulation menu manip.jpg (1950 bytes), select Flip, flip.jpg (1165 bytes) .  Click on Horizontal, click OK.
color.jpg (3047 bytes) Go to the box with the word GREY. Place your cursor over the arrow on the side. Click on mouse and drag to IGREY; click mouse again. Repeat the process to choose any color palette. (Purple works well.)
sidebar.jpg (2311 bytes) Go to the side bars and arrows which frame the image. By clicking on the arrows, or by clicking and dragging on the side bars, you can change the portion of the image that you see. Position the image so the bright stars of Pleiades are in the image frame.

B. Compare Star Brightness ….. with Photometry (light measuring) Tools!

Either   Measure several stars' Brightness Counts at once with Find!

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  1. Go to Data Tools. Select Find.
  2. Delete the number 4 in the center box. Type in 3000. Click OK.
  3. Brightness count numbers will appear next to the six brightest stars! (A results box also appears. To remove the results box, click on File and select Hide window).
  4. To Clean up marks on your image, click on the icon which looks like a broom and dustpan.

Or   Measure each star's Brightness Counts with Auto aperture autoaper.jpg (1259 bytes).

On the toolbar there is an icon which looks like bull’s eye. This tool is called Auto aperture . It gathers all the a starlight from a region, subtracts background ‘sky light’, and reports the number as brightness counts.

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  1. Go to the toolbars.
  2. Select Auto Aperture autoaper.jpg (1259 bytes). Move the mouse over a star you wish to measure. Click. Repeat for each star you wish to measure.
  3. A brightness counts number will appear next to the star! (A results box also appears. To remove the results box, click on File and select Hide window).

C. Record and Analyze.
Fill in the data table with the brightness counts for each star.

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Pleiades Star Names

Brightness Counts
(The numbers next to the stars.)


Alcyone Brightness: 2.86
Atlas Brightness: 3.62
Electra Brightness:  3.70
Maia Brightness: 3.86
Merope Brightness: 4.17
Taygeta Brightness: 4.29


For the rest of the star data, use the Auto Aperture tool autoaper.jpg (1259 bytes) instead of Find.
Pleione Brightness: 5.09 variable
Celaeno Brightness: 5.44
Asterope I Brightness: 5.64
Asterope II Brightness:


D. Meet the Challenge!

How is the magnitude scale related to star brightness?

  1. Which is the brightest star? ___________________
    What is this star’s magnitude? ________
  2. How many brightness counts does Electra show?  _________________  
    What is the magnitude of Electra? ________
  3. Which is the dimmest star? ____________________
    What is this star’s magnitude? ________

Compare the brightness counts of the stars to their magnitudes. Circle your choice.

  1. Stars with more brightness counts have a ( higher or lower ) magnitude.
  2. Stars with less brightness counts have a ( higher or lower ) magnitude.

What is the rule?

  1. In your own words, explain how the magnitude scale is arranged to describe the brightness of stars.



Think of yourself as a star astronomer!

  1. What other questions do you have about the Pleiades?  What other images would you like to have of the Pleiades or other stars?   How would you design a similar or different investigation?




Refer to the following and other references to find diagrams of the Pleiades or to read about the magnitude scale.

Levy, David. Skywatching. A Nature Company Guide published by Time-Life Books. San Francisco: US Weldon Owen Inc., 1994. (1-800-227-1114).

Menzel, Donald H. and Jay M. Pasachoff. A Field Guide to the Stars and Planets, 2nd Edition. Boston, Houghton Mifflin Company, 1983.

Refer to the following and other references to read mythology of the Pleiades.

Krupp, E.C. Beyond the Blue Horizon, Myths and Legends of the Sun, Moon, Stars and Planets. New York: Harper Collins Publ., 1991.

Stall, Julius D.W. The New Patterns in the Sky, Myths and Legends of the Stars. Blacksburg, Virginia: McDonald and Woodward Publ. Co., 1988.

Additional Bibliography and Credits

Briggs, John. Yerkes Observatory, Williams Bay, Wisconsin, University of Chicago. October 3, 1996 image of Pleiades (Pleiades.fts) taken with a red filter on the 2 inch refractor, Bruce mounting in the South Building.

Burnham, Robert Jr. Burnham's Celestial Handbook, An Observer's Guide to the Universe. Beyond the Solar System, Vol. III. New York: Dover Publications, Inc., 1978.

Cole, David. "Consultation Regarding Magnitude Values." University of Chicago Astronomy Department. Oct., 1996.

Hands-On Universe Informal Science Education Project, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, Berkeley, California.

Hirshfeld, Alan, Roger W. Sinnott, and Francois Ochsenbein. Sky Catalog 2000.0, Volume I: Stars to Magnitude 8.0, 2nd Edition. Cambridge, MA: Sky Publishing Corporation, 1991. pages 86-88.

Strand, K.A. Basic Astronomical Data.

HOU Educators:  Pleiades .fts  images
Assessment:  Pleiades Stars Test Yourself

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