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| Constellations on Jan 08, 2014

Taurus? Here’s your constellation

Is Taurus your favorite constellation? This post tells you how to find it in the night sky – names some of its bright stars and star clusters – and gives you its mythology.

Taurus the Bull is a constellation of the Zodiac that you can see during Northern Hemisphere winter and spring (or Southern Hemisphere summer and fall) in the evening sky.

The sun passes through the constellation Taurus from about May 14 to June 21. But you can’t see Taurus when the sun is within its borders. Instead, try looking for Taurus in the early evening sky at the opposite end of the year.

The three stars of Orion's Belt point to the star Aldebaran and the Pleiades star cluster

Image credit: Janne

To see Taurus, start by looking along the sun’s path. Just remember that, by definition, zodiacal constellations are those that mark the sun’s yearly path across our sky. That’s what made them so important and special to the early stargazers – and it also helps guide your eye to these constellations in the night sky.

Next, let Orion’s Belt guide your eye. Practiced stargazers often use Orion’s Belt to find Taurus’ most prominent signposts: the V-shaped Hyades star cluster with the bright star Aldebaran in its midst, and the magnificent Pleiades star cluster.

Orion's Belt (lower left) points to the constellation Taurus the Bull

Taurus is certainly one of the more spectacular constellations to adorn the nighttime sky. In addition to sporting two intriguing stars, Aldebaran and Elnath, and two fine star clusters, the Pleiades and the Hyades, this constellation is the radiant point for the annual Taurid meteor shower in November.

What is the ecliptic?

What’s more, Taurus also features the telescopic Crab Nebula (M1), the remains of a cataclysmic supernova explosion that lit up the daytime sky in A.D. 1054.

Myth and timekeeping

According to Greek mythology, the constellation Taurus commemorates the time that the god Zeus changed himself into a beautiful white Bull to woo the affections of the Phoenician princess Europa. After hopping onto the Bull’s back, the Bull swam across the Mediterranean Sea, taking Europa all the way to the Island of Crete. Zeus and Europa became the parents of Minos, the legendary king of Crete.

Europa carried by Zeus, after he was transformed into a bull. Terracotta figurine from Boeotia, ca. 470 BC–450 BC. Image via Wikimedia Commons.

Click here to expand image above

The Zuni of New Mexico used the Pleiades cluster as an agricultural calendar. When the Pleiades – which the Zuni called the “Seed Stars” – disappeared into the western dusk in spring, they knew it was safe to plant their seeds, as the danger of frost had passed. But the Zuni also knew the planting must be done before the Pleiades reappeared in the east before sunrise – else immature plants would succumb to autumn frosts.

The Zuni were hardly alone in their reverence for Taurus’ Pleiades star cluster. Probably no other star formation has enjoyed such worldwide renown for timekeeping, celebration and storytelling.

The sun on the June solstice shines in front of the constellation Taurus the Bull, so Taurus rises and sets with the sun, and is lost in the sun’s glare at this time of year. But in late autumn, winter and early spring, the constellation Taurus the Bull is clearly visible in the evening sky.

Credit for image at top of post: Urania’s Mirror

Bottom line: Is Taurus your favorite constellation? This post tells you how to find it in the night sky – names some of its bright stars and star clusters – and gives you its mythology. Enjoy!

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