Maia, also designated as 20 Tauri, is a star located in the zodiacal constellation of Taurus, the celestial bull. It is the fourth-brightest star in the Pleiades open star cluster.
Key Facts & Summary
- Maia is a blue-white giant located at around 400 light-years away from Earth.
- This star can be seen with the naked eye if the conditions are right enough.
- Maia has an apparent magnitude of 3.8 and an absolute magnitude of -1.69.
- Maia’s spectral type is B8III, and it is also a mercury-manganese star, and it was considered a variable type of star by astronomer Otto Struve, however, more observations revealed that it is a stable star and thus Struve withdrew his theory.
- The star is surrounded by the Maia Nebula – also known as NGC 1432, it is one of the brightest patches of nebulosity within the Pleiades star cluster.
- The radial velocity of Maia has been estimated at 7.5 km / 4.6 mi per second.
- Maia has over 5 solar masses indicated by its brightness. Maia has also around 6.04 solar radii.
- Unlike most of the brightest Pleiades stars, Maia has a much slower rotational velocity, estimated at 33 km / 20.5 mi per second.
- Maia is 850 times brighter than our Sun, and its average surface temperatures are around 12,600 K.
- The zodiacal constellation of Taurus and the Pleiades are so bright and distinguishable, that humanity has known them for thousands of years.
- The Pleiades cluster though very bright, cannot be seen during May and June since the Sun blocks our view of the cluster in that period sadly.
- In the Pleiades cluster, Alcyone is the brightest star, followed by Atlas, Electra, and then Maia.
The star was named after one of the Pleiades, the seven daughters of the Oceanid nymph Pleione and the Titan Atlas, in the Greek lore. Maia was the eldest of the daughters, and she would later become the mother of Hermes, the Greek messenger of the gods.
The name Maia comes from both Greek and Latin origins, and it was approved by the IAU in 2016 as the official name of the star designated as 20 Tauri.
All the stars in the Pleiades cluster have a common origin, they formed through a gigantic molecular cloud of dust and gas. Gravity pulled the swirling gas and dust together and formed the Pleiades cluster.
Maia though has certain features that distinguish it from most of the other Pleiades stars. It is a chemically peculiar star, and it is also a slow spinner in comparison to the other Pleiades stars. The Pleiades cluster is overall dominated by very hot blue and luminous stars.
Distance, Size, and Mass
Maia is located at around 400 light-years / 120 parsecs away from the Sun. In the right conditions, the star is bright enough to be seen with the naked eye.
Maia has 6.04 solar radii, or 604% the Sun’s radius, and at least 5 solar masses or it has at least 500% the Sun’s mass. Given its radius, Maia is around 12 times bigger than our Sun.
Maia is a blue-white giant star of spectral type B8III. The average surface temperatures are around 12,600 K, thus it is around 2.1 times hotter than our Sun.
Maia is also 850 times brighter than our Sun, though most of its energy output is in the ultraviolet part of the spectrum. In regards to the other bright Pleiades stars, Maia is a slow rotator, having a rotational velocity of around 33 km / 20.5 mi per second.
Maia has an apparent magnitude of 3.8 and an absolute magnitude of -1.69, and thus it can be seen with the naked eye. Maia is quite special since it is a mercury-manganese type of star.
This means that it is a chemically peculiar star with an atmospheric excess of mercury, manganese, and other elements. Some other stars that share this trait are Alpheratz, Gienah, and Muliphein in the constellations of Andromeda, Corvus, and Canis Major.
Though Maia isn’t a variable type of star, showing regular changes over a period of 10 days, it was discovered that its brightness changes due to a large chemical spot on its surface coming in and out of view as a result of rotation. Another special feature of Maia is that it is enveloped by a nebula that also bears its name.
A very bright patch of nebulosity known as the Maia Nebula surrounds this star. The nebula is also designated as NGC 1432. The apparent size of the nebula has been estimated to be 1.6 by 1.4 light-years.
This nebula was discovered in 1885 by the French astronomer and optician Paul-Pierre Henry. Little is known about this nebula and its grasp upon the stars makes it a bit difficult to study.
Maia is located in the zodiacal constellation of Taurus, the celestial bull. It is the fourth brightest star of the famous Pleiades open cluster. The Constellation of Taurus is also home to another great open cluster named Hyades.
This constellation is among the largest in the night sky, and also one of the most prominent of the northern constellations occupying an area of 797 square degrees. These celestial objects are best observed and studied during January.
The constellation of Taurus, apart from the two mentioned clusters, also has many interesting stars such as Aldebaran, Elnath, and also other fascinating deep-sky objects such as the Crab Nebula, Crystal Ball Nebula, merging galaxies and many more open clusters.
Maia is the fourth brightest star/member of the Pleiades open cluster, before Electra, Atlas, and Alcyone, the brightest star.
From October to April, these stars can be observed and studied, however, May and June are not suitable for observation since the cluster is too close to the Sun.
The Pleiades open cluster is among the closest star clusters to Earth, and one of the brightest in our vicinity. Though the cluster is very bright and easy to find, you may also draw an imaginary line from the stars of Orion’s Belt – Alnitak, Alnilam, and Mintaka – past Aldebaran – and find the cluster.
The Pleiades cluster is also known as Messier 45. The majority of the brightest and hottest stars here are of spectral class B, and they formed between 75 and 150 million years ago.
Most of them are far apart from each other, and at around 444 light-years away from us. The most documented and famous stars are all named after the mythological Seven Sisters and their parents from Greek mythology.
The nine stars are Alcyone, Asterope, Atlas, Electra, Celaeno, Maia, Merope, Taygeta, and Pleione. The mythological story depicts the sisters as they caught the eye of Orion, a giant huntsman. Atlas, being condemned for his battles against the gods, was condemned to carry the heavens on his shoulders while Orion, the giant, pursued his daughters.
However, the Greek god Zeus stepped in and transformed the sisters into doves, and then into stars to console their father. Even so, Orion, the giant, is still pursuing the Pleiades sisters across the sky, represented by the Orion constellation.
Maia will probably continue to exist for many millions of years however, the Pleides star cluster has been studied closely and many computer simulations predict a grim future.
Most simulations suggest that the cluster will continue to survive for 250 million years before it will start to disperse due to gravitational interactions with its galactic neighborhood.
Did you know?
- The Chinese know Maia as the Fourth Star of Hairy Head – Hairy Head being a Chinese asterism formed by the Pleiades stars Asterope, Atlas, Electra, Maia, Merope, Taygeta, and Alcyone. It is one of the seven mansions of the White Tiger.
- The Pleiades star cluster is believed to have been formed from a compact configuration that resembled the Orion Nebula.
- Many cultures throughout the world knew of the Pleiades cluster since ancient times. One of the earliest depictions of the Pleiades cluster and its stars resides in the Nebra sky disk – a Bronze Age artifact dating to 1.6000 BCE, uncovered in Germany.
- Many famous and ancient texts mention the cluster, such as Homer’s Illiad and Odyssey, Hesiod’s Works and Days, the Bible, the ancient Egyptian Calendar of Lucky and Unlucky Days, and the Japanese Kojiki – An Account of Ancient Matters – the 8th-century chronicle of myths, oral traditions, and legends.
- The Pleiades are mentioned in the Kojiki as the Mutsuraboshi – translating to “six stars.” In modern Japan, the cluster is now known as Subaru – the same name used by the famous automobile company that depicts the six brightest stars in their logo.
- One of the first telescopic observations conducted on the Pleiades was during the 1610s. Galileo Galilei observed the bright stars and the cluster and it is noted that he may well be the first to have done so.