The Seven Sisters

Roughly 440 light years away from us, the Pleiades should be a familiar sight to any stargazer in the northern hemisphere. Residing in the constellation of Taurus, they’re one of the nearest open clusters to Earth. The brightest stars are hot blue stars, still only a youthful 100 million years old. At that age, you might think that planets could be forming around them. As a matter of fact, you might be right.

The star HD 23514 lies quite a bit south of the main cluster in this image (loosely 10 light years down from Merope), and it’s also a lot more Sun-like. Being a young star, it’s still surrounded by a lot of dust. Some of that dust is a little warmer than it should be, apparently, and astronomers take this to be evidence of planetessimals (baby planets) colliding with each other.

Objects roughly moon-sized to mars-sized are thought to form pretty quickly around a young star, within the first few hundred thousand years. After that, planets like Earth are thought to gradually build up over the next few hundred million years through a series of cataclysmic collisions. Any that manage to grow to 5-10 Earth masses will be massive enough to rapidly accrete hydrogen and helium, growing into gas giants.

It’s those collisions that could easily be creating this warm dust. Promisingly, it’s in a close Earth-like orbit around HD 23514 too. It could well be that, when we look at this star, we’re looking at a solar system in the making. Maybe one day, one of them will be another Earth. Or perhaps at least another Venus.

About Invader Xan

Molecular astrophysicist, usually found writing frenziedly, staring at the sky, or drinking mojitos.
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4 Responses to The Seven Sisters

  1. invaderxan says:

    You know, you could always try taking the amateur path. See if there are any observatories near you, e-mail them… Usually membership doesn’t cost a huge amount.
    Science writing too, is pretty important. That’s one of the reasons I keep this blog. :)
    Frank Wilczek… I don’t believe I’ve read anything by him. Thanks for the tip — I’ll keep an eye out…

  2. Very very cool… I am SO jealous of you. I wish I figured out that I like math and science way earlier. I would probably be on the same path as you. But I didn’t, and as such I am first a writer. I think I can be content with it if I combine the two. I am looking into possibly writing for the NASW (National Association of Science Writers). So that would potentially solve my dilemma.
    As for past entries, I will check them out. Also the book! Have you heard of “The Lightness of Being” by Frank Wilczek? Phenomenal, if you get a chance.
    Even though I am an English major, I am hating it right now. I would rather be back in a science classroom, but I know this sentiment is short lived. No matter how much I love science, I love words more. How can you explain the beauty of science without words? Ha, what a loaded question. Anyway.
    I’m into some classic literature, but I am finding the post modern movement interesting. Right now I am reading “Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close” – which is a completely new approach to writing.
    I’d love to eventually teach creative writing, so I guess that answers your question.

  3. invaderxan says:

    Hey, I hope you enjoy it! It’s mostly a collection of things I find interesting or things I’m researching (I’m an astrochemistry grad student). Feel free to flick through a few of my past entries if you like…
    Science can be addictive, huh? I’ve had something of a long term on-and-off love affair with it all. Astronomy’s always fascinated me though. Ooo, and as for books, I’d heartily recommend “Stardust” by John Gribbin…
    Memoirs, poetry and short stories. Sounds like good reading to me! So you’re studying English? Are you into studying literature, or do you prefer the creative writing aspect…? :)

  4. LOVE IT. I am ridiculously giddy to be reading your journal/blog. I took astronomy during my last semester and am now thouroughly in love with it. My final project was on the Pleiades :)Actually, I am taking the laboratory component now. Woo hoo!
    You won’t find nearly as much technical information like this in my journal, as I mostly write my memoirs so far in my life, or short stories, or poetry. I am a story teller.
    Thank you for the add; I am looking forward to more of this to satiate my recent thirst for science. It started with astronomy, and led to physics, and now my TV is perpetually stuck on the Science Channel and I am devouring books.
    In a nutshell, I am an English major, sabotaged, and turned super nerd. :D

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