Me, the Pilgrims, and My Sister – Happy Thanksgiving 2009

 Posted by DrJeff on November 26th, 2009

 Copyright 2009  |  About this blog


Pleiades as seen by the Hubble Space Telescope
















Photo Caption: The Pleiades as seen by the Hubble Space Telescope.


This post is a Teachable Moment in the News.


So here I am in NY, visiting my mom and my sister’s family. We’re sitting on the couch and my sister comes up with this bizarre Thanksgiving challenge. “Hey Jeffrey! (my family calls me Jeffrey … yuck), why don’t you come up with a personal Thanksgiving story involving the pilgrims. Sort of a 3 degrees of separation thing.” Ok, fine. Here goes—


I’m now (unfortunately) 52 years old. In 52 years, in the year 2061, Halley’s Comet will return. And if you look up on Thanksgiving Night in 2061, at the famously visible star cluster the Pleiades, the light you see will have traveled 440 years from the Pleiades to your eye. So that light must have left the Pleiades in the year 1621 (that’s 2061 – 440), and in just the right direction to hit your eye which is staring at the Pleiades in 2061. And hey look! There goes Halley’s Comet. But that means that the light you see on Thanksgiving Night 2061 left the Pleiades when the Pilgrims were holding the first Thanksgiving in 1621 in Plymouth colony.


Now here is the spooky part. I actually went to Pilgrim Monument on my way to Nantucket, when I was visiting my good friend who was the Director of Nantucket’s Maria Mitchell Observatory. I knew him ’cause we worked together a few years earlier in the Lab for Astrophysics at the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum. And while working in the Lab, I made lots of trips to the Big Island of Hawai’i where I was part of teams at the NASA Infrared Telescope Facility on the summit of Mauna Kea studying among other things—Halley’s Comet. And right next to the NASA telescope you can now find the Japanese National Telescope called Subaru, which in Japanese means …. “Pleiades”.  (I know!!!)  Hey you Subaru owners, look at the emblem on your car—it’s that star cluster.


So ‘sis, how’d I do?  “Jeffrey I just got chills—I’ve owned 4 Subarus.”


Happy Thanksgiving 2009!!



I’m claiming a heaping helping of writer’s artistic license, since I’ve assumed the Pleiades is exactly 440 light years away. But don’t tell my sister.



Photocredit: NASA, ESA and AURA/Caltech


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2 Responses to “Me, the Pilgrims, and My Sister – Happy Thanksgiving 2009”

  1. amcheval Says:
    November 26th, 2009 at 12:24 am

    The Subarus on the streets will forever remind me of the beauty of the stars, not just the Pleiades -no, I didn’t know either- How I wished it were possible to overcome the limitations of light speed and see them as they are now ~ although, could they be any more beautiful than as captured by the Hubble Space Telescope?
    Thank you for posting this, and a Happy Thanksgiving!!! to you and yours.

  2. Charlotte McDonald Says:
    December 6th, 2009 at 1:14 pm

    One positive thing about the recent space shuttle mission is the Monarch butterfly and painted lady research. Monarch Larvae from the University of Kansas – Monarch Watch are currently aboard the space station. How will they complete their life cycle in microgravity. It’s an exciting project for teachers and students. We have some control larvae in many classrooms in the midwest.