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Camelopardalis | Cancer | Canes Venatici | Canis Major | Canis Minor | Capricornus | Carina | Cassiopeia | Centaurus
Cepheus | Cetus | Chamæleon | Circinus | Columba | Coma Berenices | Corona Australis | Corona Borealis | Corvus
Crater | Crux | Cygnus | Delphinus | Dorado | Draco | Equuleus | Eridanus | Fornax | Gemini | Grus | Hercules | Horologium
Hydra | Hydrus | Indus | Lacerta | Leo | Leo Minor | Lepus | Libra | Lupus | Lynx | Lyra | Mensa | Microscopium | Monoceros
Musca | Norma | Octans | Ophiuchus | Orion | Pavo | Pegasus | Perseus | Phoenix | Pictor | Pisces | Piscis Austrinus
Puppis | Pyxis | Reticulum | Sagitta | Sagittarius | Scorpius | Sculptor | Scutum | Serpens | Sextans | Taurus
Telescopium | Triangulum | Triangulum Australe | Tucana | Ursa Major | Ursa Minor | Vela | Virgo | Volans | Vulpecula
Or sweet Europa's mantle blew unclasp'd,
From off her shoulder backward borne;
From one hand droop'd a crocus;
The other grasp'd the mild bull's golden horn.
- Alfred, Lord Tennyson - The Palace of Art.
Taurus the Bull
|Origin:||Ancient Greek (Tauros)|
|Area:||800 sq deg|
|Co-ordinates1:||Right Ascension 04h, Declination +15°|
|Sign of the Zodiac:||21 April to 20 May2.|
Taurus is a major constellation in the northern hemisphere and the second sign of the western zodiac. Situated just to the north-west3 of Orion the Hunter, Orion's 'belt' (zeta Ori: Alnitak; epsilon Ori: Alnilam; and delta Ori: Mintaka) is roughly lined up with the 'eye of the bull' - the giant orange star Aldebaran4 (alpha Tauri). Once this star has been identified, the constellation itself can be discerned; the main stars form a 'V' which are taken to be the bull's head and horns.
Objects of particular interest include:
Aldebaran (alpha Tauri), known to the Romans as Parilicium, is an orange giant star, 38 times the mass of our own Sun. Aldebaran is one of the four 'Royal Stars' of ancient Persian culture. It is around 65 light years5 distant, and the 14th brightest star in the night sky.
The Pleiades, (a Messier object - M45), is an open star cluster which contains over 100 stars. The Pleiades formed around 100 million years ago. We know the Pleiades is much younger than the Hyades cluster, because it contains several hot blue stars. Easily spotted with the naked eye, it is one of the most identifiable objects even for the novice astronomer. Turning binoculars or a small telescope upon M45 reveals its magnificence to the stunned viewer. The distance of 400 light years seems crossed in an instant and you almost feel like you can reach out and touch them. They truly are a spectacular sight.
The blue sub-giant star Merope (23 Tau) is surrounded by a nebula sometimes called Tempel's Nebula, but it's more commonly known as Merope's Nebula and NGC 1435.
The Hyades, another open star cluster, situated on the 'head' of the bull. At 150 light-years distance, this cluster is the closest6 star cluster to us. The Hyades contains about 300 stars and was formed around 400 million years ago. Ancient Greek poet and scholar Homer spoke of the Hyades to his students in 750 BC. This is the earliest mention of them that we know of in history.
The Crab Nebula (M1), a supernova remnant some 6,300 light years distant. The outermost 'horn' of the bull - the star designated zeta Tauri - is a blue giant. The Crab Nebula is just beside it, located a little over a degree to the northwest of zeta Tauri, but you would need an optical aid to view it. There is a pulsar in the Crab Nebula which spins extremely fast, emitting gamma and radio waves.
In 1940 a reported 16,500-year-old map of the Pleiades star cluster was discovered on a cave wall at Lascaux in central France. Draped above the shoulder of a painted bull are markings which could represent the 'seven sisters'.
Around 17,000 years ago, this region of sky would never have set below the horizon and it would have been especially prominent at the start of spring. It is a map of the prehistoric cosmos. It was their sky, full of animals and spirit guides.
- Researcher Dr Michael Rappenglueck, University of Munich.
The ancient Egyptians identified Taurus with Osiris, the god of life, fertility and the flooding of the Nile (upon which all life in Egypt depended). They worshipped the figure Apis, which had either a human body with the head and horns of a bull, or a bull's body with a human head. On the ceiling of a tomb in Luxor (Thebes), a representation of the constellation Taurus is portrayed.
According to Exodus in the Bible, when Moses was busy up a mountain receiving the Ten Commandments, his followers got a bit bored. In the end they melted down all their collective gold and fashioned a bull which they then danced around and worshipped.
The Pleiades are mentioned in the Biblical book of Job, who speaks of the 'sweet influence' of them. The Pleiades are known in Sanskrit as Krittikas (the wives of the seven rishis). The rising of the Pleiades was considered a sign that the season for sailing had begun by ancient mariners, who believed a goddess protected sailors from storms.
The supernova which created the Crab Nebula was seen from Earth in 1054. The actual stellar explosion7 took place 6,500 years before that, but it took the light until the year 1054 to reach us. It was so bright that it was viewable during the day and witnessed by Chinese astronomers, who kept meticulous records of the 'guest star'.
The scientific star names are simple to understand (if you know your Greek alphabet). 'Alpha Tauri' means that it is the brightest star in the constellation Taurus. The next brightest is 'beta Tauri', and so on. Combined with the genitive name, this is known as the 'Bayer designation'. Some are named stars, like alpha Tauri is Aldebaran. Other stars are known by their catalogue number.
|α Tau||alpha Tauri||Aldebaran||0.85||65||Orange giant|
|β Tau||beta Tauri||El Nath||1.65||131||Blue giant|
|γ Tau||gamma Tauri||Ambrosia||3.65||154||Orange giant in Hyades|
|δ Tau||delta Tauri||Eudora||3.7||150||Orange giant in Hyades|
|ε Tau||epsilon Tauri||Coronis||3.6||155||Orbiting planet discovered in 2007|
|ζ Tau||zeta Tauri||Shurnarkabti-sha-shutu8||3.0||417||Blue-white giant|
|η Tau||eta Tauri||Alcyone||2.85||440||Binary in Pleiades|
|θ Tau||theta Tauri||Phaesyla||3.8||153||Orange giant in Hyades|
|ι Tau||iota Tauri||unnamed (102 Tau)||4.6||160||White dwarf|
|κ Tau||kappa Tauri||unnamed (65 Tau)||4.2||152||White sub-giant in Hyades|
|λ Tau||lambda Tauri||Althaur||3.42||400||Blue-white dwarf|
|μ Tau||mu Tauri||Kattupothu||4.3||435||Blue-white sub-giant|
|ν Tau||nu Tauri||Furibundus||3.9||130||White dwarf|
|ξ Tau||xi Tauri||Ushakaron||3.7||225||Triple star system|
|ο Tau||omicron Tauri||Atirsagne||3.6||220||Yellow giant|
|π Tau||pi Tauri||unnamed (73 Tau)||4.7||455||Yellow giant|
|ρ Tau||rho Tauri||unnamed (86 Tau)||4.65||160||White dwarf in Hyades|
|σ Tau||sigma Tauri||unnamed (91+92 Tau)||5.0||155||Double star system in Hyades|
|τ Tau||tau Tauri||unnamed (94 Tau)||4.2||400||Triple star system|
|υ Tau||upsilon Tauri||unnamed (69 Tau)||4.3||155||Triple star system in Hyades|
|φ Tau||phi Tauri||unnamed (52 Tau)||5.0||342||Binary|
|χ Tau||chi Tauri||unnamed (59 Tau)||5.4||270||Binary|
|ψ Tau||psi Tauri||unnamed (42 Tau)||5.2||92||Yellow-white dwarf|
|ω Tau||omega Tauri||unnamed (43 Tau)||5.5||290||Orange giant|
|5 Tau||SAO 93469||Berhan Esat||4.15||360||Orange giant|
|16 Tau||SAO 76126||Celaeno||5.45||442||Blue-white dwarf in Pleiades|
|17 Tau||SAO 76131||Electra||3.7||440||Blue-white sub-giant in Pleiades|
|19 Tau||SAO 76140||Taygeta||4.3||440||Blue-white dwarf in Pleiades|
|20 Tau||SAO 76155||Maia||3.8||440||Blue-white sub-giant in Pleiades|
|21 Tau||SAO 76159||Asterope||5.6/6.4||440||Double dwarf system in Pleiades|
|23 Tau||V971 Tauri||Merope||4.15||440||Blue-white dwarf in Pleiades|
|27 Tau||SAO 76228||Atlas||3.6||380||Triple star system in Pleiades|
|28 Tau||BU Tauri||'Purple' Pleione||5.5||440||Blue-white dwarf in Pleiades|
|71 Tau||SAO 76155||Polyxo||4.5||156||Yellow-white variable in Hyades|
|119 Tau||SAO 94628||unnamed (CE Tau)||4.3||1,920||Red supergiant|
|T Tau||T Tauri||HD 284419||9.6 var||576||Prototype variable in Hyades|
New General Catalogue Objects
|NGC 1409||UGC 2821||15.4||300 million||Anti-clockwise spiral galaxy|
|NGC 1410||UGC 2821B||15.4||300 million||Clockwise spiral galaxy|
|NGC 1435||Merope Nebula||13.0||440||Reflection nebula|
|NGC 1514||Crystal Ball Nebula||10.0||1,950||Planetary nebula|
|NGC 1555||Hind's Nebula||Variable||576||Variable nebula|
|NGC 1952||Crab Nebula||8.4||6,300||Supernova remnant|
The two galaxies NGC 1409 and NGC 1410 are interacting and have collided many times. The gravitational pull is such that there is no escape for either of them and they will continue to bump and grind until they eventually become one huge galaxy.
The Taurids - a Meteor Shower
There is an annual meteor shower called the Taurids, so named because they appear to originate from the constellation of Taurus. Meteor showers occur when the Earth passes through the debris path left by the tail of a comet, in this case comet Encke. As the peak happens around the end of October, they are sometimes known as Hallowe'en fireballs.
Extrasolar Planets in Taurus
Some extrasolar planets have been discovered in orbit around stars which make up the constellation Taurus.
Gliese 176 (also catalogued HD 285968) is a red dwarf star approximately 31 light years distant. An exciting find in 2007 was a 'Super Earth' planet orbiting this star. Such planets are terrestrial like the Earth, rather than the gas giants which seem more common.
HD 37124 is a yellow dwarf not unlike our own Sun. The system boasts three extrasolar planets, all gas giants. The width of the so-called 'Goldilocks Zone' is estimated to be between 0.5 AU and 1.5 AU (AU being the distance between the star and the planet). One of these, planet b, resides just inside the habitable zone, and planet d orbits just outside the extreme limit. Planet c is much further out; the reason the letters are not in order of distance from the star is because they are catalogued when discovered, and planet d was detected later than planet c.
Figures given in the table below are the length of the planet's orbital period around its parent star, which we know of as a year. The mass of the extrasolar planet is compared to that of Jupiter, our Solar System's largest planet; this is known by astronomers as the 'Jovian scale'. Jupiter's mass is more than 300 times that of Earth's.
Extrasolar Planets Table
|Star name or
|Year of discovery||Comments|
|epsilon Tau||epsilon Tau b||7.6||595||2007||Superjovian|
|HD 24040||HD 24040 b||9.13||8,000||2006||Superjovian|
|Gliese 176||Gliese 176 b||0.0265||8.78||2007||Terrestrial|
|HD 37124||HD 37124 b||0.61||154||1999||Habitable Zone (0.53 AU)|
|HD 37124||HD 37124 d||0.60||843||2005||1.64 AU|
|HD 37124||HD 37124 c||0.68||2,295||2002||3 AU|
|HD 24496||HD 24496 b||0.32||1,570||2009||2.6 AU|
Legend of Taurus
Taurus represents the white bull who fell in love with a beautiful mortal, Europa9, Phoenician princess of Tyre, daughter of King Agenor of Sidon. The white bull was, of course, Jupiter (Zeus), king of the gods, in one of his disguises. Attracted to the magnificent creature, Europa decorates his horns with a garland of flowers and cannot resist straddling him for a ride. The bull then carries her off across the waters to the continent which still bears her name. She resists his amorous attentions, so to have his wicked way, Jupiter has to resort to rape10.
According to some interpretations, their third son became King Minos of Crete. The Minoan people were really into bull-worship. Queen Pasiphaë, the wife of King Minos, was so infatuated with a bull that she commissioned Daedalus to build a hollow wooden cow. The intention was to hide inside and fool the bull into coupling with her. The plan worked and the result of the mating was the Minotaur, a monster which was part-man, part-bull. Daedalus was then given the job of designing a labyrinth in which to imprison the Minotaur, by King Minos. Around 1450 BC the Minoan people who created the stories of the Minotaur and the Labyrinth vanished, possibly wiped out by a tsunami following a volcanic eruption.
According to Greek mythology, Pleione (28 Tau) was the wife of Atlas (the god who carried the heavens upon his shoulders). They had seven daughters: Alcyone, Asterope, Celaeno, Electra, Maia, Merope and Taygeta. When the seven sisters11 complained that they were being pursued by Orion the hunter, the gods changed them into stars and they became the Pleiades. It is thought the name comes from the Greek peleiades, which translates as 'flock of doves'.
The Hyades were also daughters of Atlas, but their mother was a goddess called Aethra. They had a much-loved brother, Hyas12, and when he died while out hunting, his sisters grieved so much that they never stopped crying. In legend, the rising of the Hyades is a portent of rain, supposedly the continuous tears of the heartbroken sisters.
- HM Queen Elizabeth II - 21 April, 1926.
- Klever Kaff aka Contralto Kathleen Ferrier - 22 April, 1912.
- William Shakespeare, generally thought to have been born in 1564 on 23 April, which is now celebrated as National Poets Day (as well as being the feast day of St George, England's Patron Saint).
- Star of The Yellow Rolls Royce Shirley MacLaine - 24 April, 1934.
- Oscar-winner Barbra Streisand - 24 April, 1942.
- Gedhun Choekyi Nyima, the 11th Panchen Lama - 25 April, 1989.
- Bing Crosby - 3 May, 1903.
- Boxer Henry Cooper - 3 May, 1934.
- Orson Welles - 6 May, 1915.
- Ex Prime Minister Tony Blair - 6 May, 1953.
- Peter Tchaikovsky - 7 May, 1840.
- Sir David Attenborough - 8 May, 1926.
- Motown legend Stevie Wonder - 13 May, 1950.
- Pioneering scientist Pierre Curie - 15 May, 1859.
- Vaccine pioneer Edward Jenner - 17 May, 1749.
- El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz aka Malcolm X - 19 May, 1925.
- The Princess Bride star André the Giant - 19 May, 1946.
- Both halves of the married double act Richard and Judy are Taureans.