Like cosmic ballet dancers, the stars of the Pleiades cluster are spinning. But these celestial dancers are all twirling at different speeds. Astronomers have long wondered what determines the rotation rates of these stars.
By watching these stellar dancers, NASA’s Kepler space telescope has helped amass the most complete catalog of rotation periods for stars in a cluster. This information can help astronomers gain insight into where and how planets form around these stars, and how such stars evolve.
The Pleiades is one of the closest and most easily seen star clusters, residing just 445 light-years away from Earth, on average. At about 125 million years old, these stars—known individually as Pleiads—have reached stellar “young adulthood.
During the Kepler observations of the Pleiades, a clear pattern emerged: More massive stars rotate slowly, while less massive stars rotate rapidly.
FUN FACT. The Japanese word for Pleiades is “Subaru.” Sound familiar? That six-star emblem on all Subaru cars is none other than a stylized version of the Pleiades cluster, as seen with the naked eye, binoculars, or a low-power telescope.