Constellations could be considered natural art since the stars that are part of it create shapes that can be easily recognized by both experts and amateur astronomers. They have many names, some of them being related to zodiac signs. Taurus, the main topic of this article, belongs to the group.
What are Constellations?
Before delving into constellations, it is important to know what an asterism is. It is defined as a pattern of stars with an identifiable and memorable shape. People who saw them used to link asterisms to mythological creatures and characters. Once astronomers started studying stars, they added these patterns to their maps, thus, calling them constellations.
Contrary to popular belief, stars don’t form patterns in space although constellations seem to take different shapes. The distance between them and the Earth is approximately tens of light-years, but it may vary. Most constellations are named after Greek and Roman characters, although Sumerians were the ones said to start mapping the skies. On the other hand, during its ecliptic path through the sky, the Earth passes through 13 of them, which are known as the zodiac stars. Their names are listed as follows: Capricorn, Aquarius, Pisces, Aries, Gemini, Cancer, Leo, Virgo, Libra, Scorpio, Ophiuchus, Sagittarius and, the star of this article, pun intended, Taurus. Now, let’s dive into it.
Taurus is easy to spot. It can be found on the northern winter sky and it’s one of the oldest documented constellations. The bull has been spotted since the early Bronze Age and it’s famous for Aldebaran and Pleiades, the former being a red giant star while the latter is a star cluster.
Aldebaran is the brightest star in the constellation and it’s 65 light-years from Earth. It forms part of the Hyades, which is a V-shaped asterism that makes up the bull’s face. The orange-hued star seems to be glaring at Orion, a constellation on the southwest of Taurus. Aldebaran is also the 14th brightest star in the sky.
Hyades and the Pleiades are Taurus’ major star clusters. The latter comprises seven stars that are referred to as the Seven Sisters, which seem to be resting on the bull’s shoulder. They’re meant to represent their Greek mythology counterparts, daughters of Atlas and Pleione. One interesting thing about the Seven Sisters is that six of them are variable B stars. This means that they tend to change brightness during the day. Despite varying depending on the observer’s eyesight and local conditions, the Pleiades can be easily spotted without a telescope.
There is also a remnant supernova on the bull’s proximities. It is named Messier 1 and it’s located in the tip of Taurus’ bottom horn, on the northwest of the constellation. It is also referred to as “The Crab Nebula”, which stretches 10 light-years across from Earth and continues expanding.
Locating Taurus, The Bull Constellation
As it was mentioned earlier, Taurus can be located in the Northern Hemisphere, specifically from November to March. However, in January, the bull can be easily spotted, covering 797 square degrees. Taurus’ right ascension lasts 4 hours, with a declination of 15 degrees. One can easily catch the bull between 90 degrees and minus 65 degrees of latitude.
Facts about the Taurus Constellation
Taurus is visible in the Northern and Southern hemispheres. In the North, the constellation can be seen in autumn and winter, whereas the bull can be seen during spring and summer in the South. This constellation is the largest of them all and it has been depicted in cave paintings from over 10,000 years ago. Another curious thing about Taurus is that it’s based on a 3,000 Babylonian observation of the night sky.
Taurus has also a meteor shower named after it. This one is known as the Taurids and they seem to come from the constellation around mid-autumn. On the other hand, its brightest star, the red giant Aldebaran, is 500 times as luminous as the sun. If it weren’t for the distance from Earth, they could easily start a competition and try to outshine each other. After all, who other than Aldebaran could be a worthy opponent for the Sun?
Mythology Related to the Taurus Constellation
Taurus’s link to Greek Mythology is fascinating. It is widely known that Zeus is no stranger to shapeshifting since he transformed into a white bull with golden horns when he fell in love with Europa, the Phoenician Princess. The name of the bull? Taurus and he used his current form to infiltrate in King Agenor’s herd. The maiden was so mesmerized by the beauty of the animal that she climbed on its back, no questions asked. Since his strategy to woo her proved to be effective, Zeus took the plunge and brought her to the island of Crete.
After kidnapping his most recent lover, something he tends to do with every woman that ends up being the object of his affections, Zeus revealed his true form to the princess and proclaimed her his mistress, to which she didn’t seem to refuse at all. Europa had three children with him, leading the Greek god to immortalize his conquest in the night sky. Another curious thing about this constellation is that is located between Aries and Gemini. According to astrology, Taurus is the second sign of the zodiac and represents those born between April and March.
Taurus is one of the most ancient constellations in history. The bull has been around since the Babylonians discovered it 3,000 years ago when they started mapping the sky to study them properly. This constellation can be seen from both the Northern and Southern hemispheres during autumn and winter on the former, whereas it can be easily spotted in spring and summer on the latter. Taurus is also linked to Greek Mythology since it is said that Zeus transformed into a bull to romance Princess Europa, immortalizing his conquest in the night sky. It is also associated with the Zodiac sign.