Have you ever been crossing a busy street and then suddenly dropped down to the tarmac because you thought a passing roach was the same one that stole part of your Fruit Roll-Up the other day, only to look up and see a Subaru Impreza screeching to a stop inches from your head? Sure, we all have. I bet when that Impreza came to a halt, you noticed something interesting about the Subaru logo — specifically, in the number of stars it has. There’s a new insight into this we really should discuss.
The Subaru logo, as you may know, is a stylised representation of the star cluster known in the West as the Pleiades, or, if you’re an astronomer, Messier 45 (M45). In Japan, this cluster is known by the name subaru, which, of course, is where the carmaker and opposed-engine devoteé took its name.
Now, here’s the funny thing about all of this: The Pleiades are also known as the “Seven Sisters” in Greek mythology, referring to the seven daughters of the Earth-lifting Titan named Atlas, and even though only six stars are actually visible, the star cluster is always treated as though there are seven stars there, with similar stories of a “lost” seventh star showing up in “European, African, Asian, Indonesian, Native American and Aboriginal Australian cultures.”
So what’s going on here? If there are only six stars easily visible (the seventh is actually so close to another star it can’t really be discerned as separate), why does everyone keep insisting there are really seven sisters or stars or whatever?
Subaru’s six-star badge is sometimes said to refer to Fuji Heavy Industries as the big star, and the five smaller stars as the other five companies (Fuji Kogyo, Fuji Jidosha, Omiya Fuji Kogyo, Utsunomiya Sharyo, and Tokyo Fuji Sangyo, if you were wondering), so for them, the six-star thing works fine. But it doesn’t explain why, somehow, all these ancient cultures knew there was a seventh star there even though it’s not visible without very modern equipment that the people who came up with these seven-star myths would not have had.
Astronomers Ray and Barnaby Norris seem to have figured out an answer, thankfully:
Careful measurements with the Gaia space telescope and others show the stars of the Pleiades are slowly moving in the sky. One star, Pleione, is now so close to the star Atlas they look like a single star to the naked eye.
But if we take what we know about the movement of the stars and rewind 100,000 years, Pleione was further from Atlas and would have been easily visible to the naked eye. So 100,000 years ago, most people really would have seen seven stars in the cluster.
We believe this movement of the stars can help to explain two puzzles: the similarity of Greek and Aboriginal stories about these stars, and the fact so many cultures call the cluster “seven sisters” even though we only see six stars today.
All the details are laid out in their upcoming book, Advancing Cultural Astronomy, and while their main goal wasn’t solving the mystery of why the Subaru logo has only six stars when everyone calls that constellation “the seven sisters,” I think we all know this is by far the most important result.
They also suggest that these stories of the seven stars, which seem to have sprung up in many cultures over 100,000 years ago, could represent the oldest story known to humankind, since it had to be told and retold over and over to preserve the seven-star myths of a visibly six-star cluster.
That would kick the crap out of the Epic of Gilgamesh’s 4,000 year-old claim to the oldest human story, if true. Of course, we still have the text of Gilgamesh and only hints at the Pleiades thing, but still.
So, the question now is should Subaru update (or maybe backdate?) their logo to reflect the more accurate star count, the one that would have been visible about 100,000 years ago, or should they just move ahead with their filthy stellar lies?
I guess I’ll leave that up to them, but I for one am glad to finally reconcile this mess.