TAURUS The "Bull" pronounced TOOR-us

Chart showing Taurus and the Pleiades

Taurus is one of the most ancient constellations, having been known to peoples throughout the world since the dawn of civilisation, for the bull's strength and fertility meant that it held an honoured place in ceremony and religion. The head of the bull is depicted with its face being formed by the V-shaped cluster of stars known as the Hyades, and its glinting red eye marked by the star Aldebaran. Its long horns are tipped by the stars β and ζ Tauri. In addition to the Hyades, Taurus contains the celebrated open cluster of the Pleiades, or "Seven Sisters".

Taurus contained the famous supernova that was seen on Earth in 1054, which gave rise to the Crab Nebula.

To find Taurus, look north in the late evening, low down the sky to find Aldebaran, and the "V" shaped Hyades cluster.

Chart showing Taurus at about 10 pm NZDT early January just as the sky darkens

Taurus and the Pleiades

Constellation Pisces Constellation Cetus Constellation Orion Constellation Perseus Constellation Auriga

Details of some of the objects shown in the chart.

α Tauri, Aldebaran, the follower (of the Pleiades), is a magnitude 0.9 red giant star 68 light years away. Although it appears to be part of the Hyades open cluster, it is in fact an unrelated foreground star.

β Tau (El Nath, meaning 'the butting one') is a magnitude 1.7 blue giant 140 light years away.

ζ Tau is a magnitude 3.0 blue-white star 490 light years away.

θ Tau is an unaided eye or binocular double star 150 light years away in the Hyades cluster consisting of white and yellow giant stars of magnitudes 3.4 and 3.9.

γ Tau (Hyadum 1) is a magnitude 3.7 yellow giant star also about 150 light years away in the Hyades cluster.

κ Tau, 75 light years away, is a white star of magnitude 4.2 that forms an unaided eye or binocular duo with an unrelated white star, 67 Tauri, of magnitude 5.3, 160 light years away.

λ Tau is an eclipsing binary star, varying between magnitudes 3.5 and 4.0, every 4 days.

σ Tau is a wide binocular white double star of magnitudes 4.7 and 5.1.

φ Tau is an optical double star divisible in small telescopes, where the unrelated stars are a magnitude 5.0 orange giant and a white star of magnitude 8.7.

χ Tau is a double star for small telescopes, with blue and gold components of magnitudes 5.4 and 8.2.

The Hyades is a large and important bright nearby cluster of about 200 stars, the brightest of which form a noticeable V shape, easily visible to the unaided eye. In mythology, the Hyades were the daughters of Atlas and Aethra, and half sisters of the Pleiades. Binoculars are best suited for viewing the Hyades, since it covers a large area being nearby astronomically speaking.
Bright Aldebaran is not a member of the cluster, but superimposed on it by chance.

The Pleiades or "Seven Sisters" or M 45 is the brightest and most famous star cluster in the sky. The seven sisters refer to a group of nymphs, the daughters of Atlas and Pleione. Although about six or seven stars are seen by the unaided eye, binoculars bring dozens more into view. There are about 250 stars belonging to the cluster, which lies 415 light years away. The stars in this cluster are younger than the Hyades, and include many young blue giants.

The brightest member of the cluster is η Tauri (Alcyone) at magnitude 2.9. Other brighter members are Celaeno (mag. 5.5), Electra (mag. 3.7), Taygeta (mag. 4.3), Maia (mag. 3.9), Asterope (mag. 5.8), Merope mag. 4.2), Atlas (mag. 3.6) and Pleione (varies between 5.0 and 5.5).

The Pleiades is embedded in faint nebulosity reflected off dust particles. The brightest part of this can be seen round Merope on clear nights in small telescopes. The Maori used the rising of the Pleiades in seasonal planting.

M 1 (NGC 1952) is the celebrated "Crab Nebula", the remains of a star that exploded as the supernova, seen on Earth in 1054. It was discovered by John Bevis in 1731 and again by Charles Messier in 1758 when observing a comet, and this led to his Messier Catalogue of 110 nebulous objects that he thought could be confused with comets. Lord Rosse in Ireland who thought the shape when seen through his 72 inch reflecting telescope in 1848, resembled a crab's pincer, named it the "Crab".

Visibility

Taurus is visible to the north as soon as it is dark in January. In December Taurus will be to the north about 11 pm, and to the north-east at dusk. The constellation will remain visible to the north-west at dusk during February and March as the Sun sets progressively earlier during these months. However by the end of March the constellation is getting low in the twilight sky