Located in the northern celestial hemisphere, Taurus, which is Latin for “the Bull”, is a constellations of the zodiac. Taurus is a large and prominent in the winter sky for observers in the Pacific Northwest.
The history of the constellation is one of the oldest as it dates back to at least the Early Bronze Age, when it marked the location of the Sun during the spring equinox. Its importance to the agricultural calendar influenced various bull figures in the mythologies of Ancient Sumer, Akkad, Assyria, Babylon, Egypt, Greece, and Rome.
There are some interesting features. 2 of the nearest open clusters can be found in Taurus and visible to the naked eye, the Pleiades and the Hyades. At first magnitude, the red giant Aldebaran is the brightest star in the constellation. In the northwest part of Taurus is the supernova remnant Messier 1, more commonly known as the Crab Nebula.
|Visibility In Pacific Northwest||September to March|
|Best Times To View||December and January|
|Area||797 square degrees|
|Meteor showers||Taurids, Beta Taurids|
|Neighboring Constellations||Auriga, Perseus, Aries, Cetus, Eridanus, Orion, Gemini|
Taurus marked the point of vernal equinox in the Chalcolithic and the Early Bronze Age, which was from about 4000 BC to 1700 BC. After 1700 BC, the vernal equinox moved into the neighboring constellation Aries.
In Babylonian astronomy, the constellation was listed in the MUL.APIN as GU4.AN.NA, “The Bull of Heaven”.
In the Old Babylonian Epic of Gilgamesh, the goddess Ishtar sends Taurus, the Bull of Heaven, to kill Gilgamesh for spurning her advances. Enkidu tears off the bull’s hind part and hurls the quarters into the sky where they become the stars we know as Ursa Major and Ursa Minor. Some locate Gilgamesh as the neighboring constellation of Orion, facing Taurus as if in combat.
In early Mesopotamian art, the Bull of Heaven was closely associated with Inanna, the Sumerian goddess of sexual love, fertility, and warfare. One of the oldest depictions shows the bull standing before the goddess’ standard; since it has 3 stars depicted on its back, there is good reason to regard this as the constellation later known as Taurus.
To the Egyptians, the constellation Taurus was a sacred bull that was associated with the renewal of life in spring. When the spring equinox entered Taurus, the constellation would become covered by the Sun in the western sky as spring began. This “sacrifice” led to the renewal of the land.
To the early Hebrews, Taurus was the first constellation in their zodiac and consequently it was represented by the first letter in their alphabet, Aleph.
In Greek mythology, Taurus was identified with Zeus, who assumed the form of a magnificent white bull to abduct Europa, a legendary Phoenician princess. In illustrations of Greek mythology, only the front portion of this constellation is depicted; this was sometimes explained as Taurus being partly submerged as he carried Europa out to sea. A second Greek myth portrays Taurus as Io, a mistress of Zeus. To hide his lover from his wife Hera, Zeus changed Io into the form of a heifer.
The Inuit call the constellation Sakiattiat and the Hyades call the constellation Nanurjuk, with the latter representing the spirit of the polar bear.
In Buddhist legends say that Gautama Buddha was born when the full moon was in Taurus.
The brightest member of this constellation is Aldebaran, which isan orange-hued, spectral class K5 III giant star.
In the northeastern quadrant of the Taurus constellation lie the Pleiades which is known M45. M45 is one of the best known open clusters, and is easily visible to the naked eye. The 7 most prominent stars in this cluster are at least visual magnitude six, and so the cluster is also named the “Seven Sisters”. Many more stars are visible with even a modest telescope.
A degree to the northwest of ζ Tauri is the Crab Nebula, otherwise known as M1, which is a supernova remnant.
In the northern part of the constellation, northwest of the Pleiades lies the Crystal Ball Nebula, otherwise as NGC 1514. This planetary nebula is historically important as it showed that nebulae are a star surrounded by gas. Before this discovery, astronomers had assumed that nebulae were simply unresolved groups of stars.
In November, the Taurid meteor shower appears to radiate from Taurus. The Beta Taurid meteor shower occurs during the months of June and July in the daytime, and is normally observed using radio techniques.
Make sure to check out other articles on the site, including a brief introduction to constellations, other constellation articles, and more!
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