Taurus (constellation)

Taurus (constellation)

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Taurus is one of the constellation
In modern astronomy, a constellation is an internationally defined area of the celestial sphere. These areas are grouped around asterisms, patterns formed by prominent stars within apparent proximity to one another on Earth's night sky....

s of the zodiac
In astronomy, the zodiac is a circle of twelve 30° divisions of celestial longitude which are centred upon the ecliptic: the apparent path of the Sun across the celestial sphere over the course of the year...

. Its name is a Latin
Latin is an Italic language originally spoken in Latium and Ancient Rome. It, along with most European languages, is a descendant of the ancient Proto-Indo-European language. Although it is considered a dead language, a number of scholars and members of the Christian clergy speak it fluently, and...

 word meaning 'bull
Cattle are the most common type of large domesticated ungulates. They are a prominent modern member of the subfamily Bovinae, are the most widespread species of the genus Bos, and are most commonly classified collectively as Bos primigenius...

', and its astrological
Astrology consists of a number of belief systems which hold that there is a relationship between astronomical phenomena and events in the human world...

 symbol is a stylized bull's head: . Taurus is a large and prominent constellation in the northern hemisphere
Northern Hemisphere
The Northern Hemisphere is the half of a planet that is north of its equator—the word hemisphere literally means “half sphere”. It is also that half of the celestial sphere north of the celestial equator...

's winter sky, between Aries
Aries (constellation)
Aries is one of the constellations of the zodiac, located between Pisces to the west and Taurus to the east. Its name is Latin for ram, and its symbol is , representing a ram's horns...

 to the west and Gemini
Gemini (constellation)
Gemini is one of the constellations of the zodiac. It was one of the 48 constellations described by the 2nd century astronomer Ptolemy and it remains one of the 88 modern constellations today. Its name is Latin for "twins", and it is associated with the twins Castor and Pollux in Greek mythology...

 to the east; to the north lie Perseus
Perseus (constellation)
Perseus is a constellation in the northern sky, named after the Greek hero Perseus. It was one of the 48 constellations listed by the 2nd century astronomer Ptolemy, and remains one of the 88 modern constellations defined by the International Astronomical Union...

 and Auriga
Auriga (constellation)
Auriga is a constellation in the northern sky. Its name is Latin for 'charioteer' and its stars form a shape that has been associated with the pointed helmet of a charioteer. It was one of the 48 constellations listed by the 2nd century astronomer Ptolemy, and remains among the 88 modern...

, to the southeast Orion
Orion (constellation)
Orion, often referred to as The Hunter, is a prominent constellation located on the celestial equator and visible throughout the world. It is one of the most conspicuous, and most recognizable constellations in the night sky...

, to the south Eridanus
Eridanus (constellation)
Eridanus is a constellation. It is represented as a river; its name is the Ancient Greek name for the Po River. It was one of the 48 constellations listed by the 2nd century astronomer Ptolemy, and it remains one of the 88 modern constellations. It is the sixth largest of the modern...

, and to the southwest Cetus
Cetus is a constellation. Its name refers to Cetus, a sea monster in Greek mythology, although it is often called 'the whale' today. Cetus is located in the region of the sky that contains other water-related constellations such as Aquarius, Pisces, and Eridanus.-Ecliptic:Although Cetus is not...


Notable features

In September and October, Taurus is visible in the evening along the eastern horizon. The most favorable time to observe Taurus in the night sky is during the months of December and January. By March and April, the constellation will appear to the west during the evening twilight. During November, the Taurid meteor shower
Meteor shower
A meteor shower is a celestial event in which a number of meteors are observed to radiate from one point in the night sky. These meteors are caused by streams of cosmic debris called meteoroids entering Earth's atmosphere at extremely high speeds on parallel trajectories. Most meteors are smaller...

 appears to radiate from the general direction of this constellation. The Beta Taurid meteor shower occurs during the months of June and July in the daytime, and is normally observed using radio techniques.

The brightest member of this constellation is Aldebaran
Aldebaran is a red giant star located about 65 light years away in the zodiac constellation of Taurus. With an average apparent magnitude of 0.87 it is the brightest star in the constellation and is one of the brightest stars in the nighttime sky...

, an orange-hued, spectral class K5 III
giant star
Giant star
A giant star is a star with substantially larger radius and luminosity than a main sequence star of the same surface temperature. Typically, giant stars have radii between 10 and 100 solar radii and luminosities between 10 and 1,000 times that of the Sun. Stars still more luminous than giants are...

. Its name is from , Arabic
Arabic language
Arabic is a name applied to the descendants of the Classical Arabic language of the 6th century AD, used most prominently in the Quran, the Islamic Holy Book...

 for 'the follower' (of the Pleiades
Pleiades (star cluster)
In astronomy, the Pleiades, or Seven Sisters , is an open star cluster containing middle-aged hot B-type stars located in the constellation of Taurus. It is among the nearest star clusters to Earth and is the cluster most obvious to the naked eye in the night sky...

Forming the profile of a Bull's face is a V or A-shaped asterism
Asterism (astronomy)
In astronomy, an asterism is a pattern of stars recognized on Earth's night sky. It may form part of an official constellation, or be composed of stars from more than one. Like constellations, asterisms are in most cases composed of stars which, while they are visible in the same general direction,...

 of stars. This outline is created by prominent members of the Hyades
Hyades (star cluster)
The Hyades is the nearest open cluster to the Solar System and one of the best-studied of all star clusters. The Hipparcos satellite, the Hubble Space Telescope, and infrared color-magnitude diagram fitting have been used to establish a distance to the cluster's center of ~153 ly...

, the nearest distinct open star cluster
Star cluster
Star clusters or star clouds are groups of stars. Two types of star clusters can be distinguished: globular clusters are tight groups of hundreds of thousands of very old stars which are gravitationally bound, while open clusters, more loosely clustered groups of stars, generally contain less than...

 after the Ursa Major Moving Group
Ursa Major Moving Group
The Ursa Major Moving Group, also known as Collinder 285 or Ursa Major association, is a nearby stellar moving group, a set of stars with common velocities in space and thought to have a common origin. Its core is located roughly 80 light years away...

In this profile, Aldebaran forms the bull's bloodshot
eye, which has been described as "glaring menacingly at the hunter Orion", a constellation that
lies just to the southwest. The Hyades span about 5° of the sky, so that they can only be viewed in their entirety with binoculars or the unaided eye.

In the northeastern quadrant of the Taurus constellation lie the Pleiades
Pleiades (star cluster)
In astronomy, the Pleiades, or Seven Sisters , is an open star cluster containing middle-aged hot B-type stars located in the constellation of Taurus. It is among the nearest star clusters to Earth and is the cluster most obvious to the naked eye in the night sky...

, one of the best known open clusters, easily visible to the naked eye. The seven most prominent stars in this cluster are at least visual magnitude
Apparent magnitude
The apparent magnitude of a celestial body is a measure of its brightness as seen by an observer on Earth, adjusted to the value it would have in the absence of the atmosphere...

 six, and so the cluster is also named the "Seven Sisters". However, many more stars are visible with even a modest telescope. The name of the star Aldebaran most likely comes from the fact that it follows the Pleiades during the nightly motion of the celestial sphere
Celestial sphere
In astronomy and navigation, the celestial sphere is an imaginary sphere of arbitrarily large radius, concentric with the Earth and rotating upon the same axis. All objects in the sky can be thought of as projected upon the celestial sphere. Projected upward from Earth's equator and poles are the...

 across the sky.

To the west, the two horns of the bull are formed by Beta (β) Tauri
Beta Tauri
Beta Tauri is the second brightest star in the constellation Taurus, with an apparent magnitude of 1.68. Because it is on the boundary of Taurus and Auriga, it also has the redundant Bayer designation Gamma Aurigae , which today is rarely used...

 and Zeta (ζ) Tauri
Zeta Tauri
Zeta Tauri is a binary star in the constellation Taurus, the Bull. Known to the ancient Babylonians as Shurnarkabti-sha-shutu, meaning "the star in the bull towards the south," Zeta Tauri is among the most prominent of the stars in well-known constellation figures, representing one of the...

; two star systems that are separated by 8°. Beta is a white, spectral class B7 III giant star known as El Nath, which comes from the Arabic phrase "the butting", as in butting by the horns of the bull. It is the second brightest star in the constellation, and shares the border with the neighboring constellation of Auriga
Auriga (constellation)
Auriga is a constellation in the northern sky. Its name is Latin for 'charioteer' and its stars form a shape that has been associated with the pointed helmet of a charioteer. It was one of the 48 constellations listed by the 2nd century astronomer Ptolemy, and remains among the 88 modern...

. Zeta Tauri is an eclipsing binary star that completes an orbit every 133 days.

A degree to the northwest of ζ Tau is the Crab Nebula
Crab Nebula
The Crab Nebula  is a supernova remnant and pulsar wind nebula in the constellation of Taurus...

Messier object
The Messier objects are a set of astronomical objects first listed by French astronomer Charles Messier in 1771. The original motivation of the catalogue was that Messier was a comet hunter, and was frustrated by objects which resembled but were not comets...

), a supernova remnant
Supernova remnant
A supernova remnant is the structure resulting from the explosion of a star in a supernova. The supernova remnant is bounded by an expanding shock wave, and consists of ejected material expanding from the explosion, and the interstellar material it sweeps up and shocks along the way.There are two...

. This expanding nebula
A nebula is an interstellar cloud of dust, hydrogen gas, helium gas and other ionized gases...

 was created by a Type II supernova
Type II supernova
A Type II supernova results from the rapid collapse and violent explosion of a massive star. A star must have at least 9 times, and no more than 40–50 times the mass of the Sun for this type of explosion. It is distinguished from other types of supernova by the presence of hydrogen in its spectrum...

 explosion, which was seen from Earth on July 4, 1054. It was bright enough to be observed during the day, and is mentioned in Chinese historical texts. At its peak the supernova reached magnitude −4, but the nebula is currently magnitude 8.4 and requires a telescope to observe.

The star Lambda (λ) Tauri
Lambda Tauri
Lambda Tauri is a triple star system in the constellation Taurus. The primary component, Lambda Tauri A, is a blue-white B-type main sequence dwarf with a mean apparent magnitude of +3.41. It has a luminosity of about 4,000 times that of the Sun and a radius of 6.6 times solar. The companion is a...

 is an eclipsing binary star. This system consists of a spectral class B3 star being orbited by a less massive class A4 star. The plane of their orbit
Orbital plane (astronomy)
All of the planets, comets, and asteroids in the solar system are in orbit around the Sun. All of those orbits line up with each other making a semi-flat disk called the orbital plane. The orbital plane of an object orbiting another is the geometrical plane in which the orbit is embedded...

 lies almost along the line of sight to the Earth. Every 3.953 days the system decreases in brightness by 1.1 magnitudes as the brighter star is partially eclipsed by the dimmer star. The two stars are separated by only 0.1 astronomical unit
Astronomical unit
An astronomical unit is a unit of length equal to about or approximately the mean Earth–Sun distance....

s, so their shapes are modified by tidal interaction. This results in a variation of their net magnitude throughout each orbit.

Located about 1.8° west of Epsilon (ε) Tauri
Epsilon Tauri
Epsilon Tauri is an orange giant star, spectral type of K0 III, located approximately 147 light-years away from the Sun in the constellation of Taurus. It is a member of the Hyades open cluster...

 is T Tauri
T Tauri
T Tauri is a variable star in the constellation Taurus, the prototype of the T Tauri stars. It was discovered in October 1852 by John Russell Hind...

, the prototype of a class of variable star
Variable star
A star is classified as variable if its apparent magnitude as seen from Earth changes over time, whether the changes are due to variations in the star's actual luminosity, or to variations in the amount of the star's light that is blocked from reaching Earth...

s called T Tauri star
T Tauri star
T Tauri stars are a class of variable stars named after their prototype – T Tauri. They are found near molecular clouds and identified by their optical variability and strong chromospheric lines.-Characteristics:...

s. This star undergoes erratic changes in luminosity, varying between magnitude 9 to 13 over a period of weeks or months. This is a newly formed stellar object
that is just emerging from its envelope of gas and dust, but has not
yet become a main sequence
Main sequence
The main sequence is a continuous and distinctive band of stars that appears on plots of stellar color versus brightness. These color-magnitude plots are known as Hertzsprung–Russell diagrams after their co-developers, Ejnar Hertzsprung and Henry Norris Russell...

 star. The surrounding reflection nebula
Reflection nebula
In Astronomy, reflection nebulae are clouds of dust which are simply reflecting the light of a nearby star or stars. The energy from the nearby star, or stars, is insufficient to ionize the gas of the nebula to create an emission nebula, but is enough to give sufficient scattering to make the dust...

 NGC 1555
NGC 1555
NGC 1555, sometimes known as Hind's Variable Nebula, is a variable nebula, illuminated by the star T Tauri, located in the constellation Taurus. It is also in the second Sharpless catalog as 238. It is a Herbig–Haro object. -External links:*...

 is illuminated by T Tauri, and thus is also variable in luminosity.

This constellation includes part of the Taurus-Auriga complex, a star forming region of sparse, filamentary clouds. This spans a diameter of 30 parsecs and contains of material, which is both larger and less massive than the Orion Nebula
Orion Nebula
The Orion Nebula is a diffuse nebula situated south of Orion's Belt. It is one of the brightest nebulae, and is visible to the naked eye in the night sky. M42 is located at a distance of and is the closest region of massive star formation to Earth. The M42 nebula is estimated to be 24 light...

. At a distance of , this is one of the nearest active star forming regions.

History and mythology

The identification of the constellation
In modern astronomy, a constellation is an internationally defined area of the celestial sphere. These areas are grouped around asterisms, patterns formed by prominent stars within apparent proximity to one another on Earth's night sky....

 of Taurus with a bull is very old, certainly dating to the Chalcolithic, and perhaps even to the Upper Paleolithic
Upper Paleolithic
The Upper Paleolithic is the third and last subdivision of the Paleolithic or Old Stone Age as it is understood in Europe, Africa and Asia. Very broadly it dates to between 40,000 and 10,000 years ago, roughly coinciding with the appearance of behavioral modernity and before the advent of...

. Michael Rappenglück of the University of Munich believes that Taurus is represented in a cave painting
Cave painting
Cave paintings are paintings on cave walls and ceilings, and the term is used especially for those dating to prehistoric times. The earliest European cave paintings date to the Aurignacian, some 32,000 years ago. The purpose of the paleolithic cave paintings is not known...

 at the Hall of the Bulls in the caves at Lascaux
Lascaux is the setting of a complex of caves in southwestern France famous for its Paleolithic cave paintings. The original caves are located near the village of Montignac, in the department of Dordogne. They contain some of the best-known Upper Paleolithic art. These paintings are estimated to be...

 (dated to roughly 15,000 BCE), which he believes is accompanied by a depiction of the Pleiades. However, his ideas have not been widely accepted.

Taurus marked the point of vernal equinox in the Chalcolithic and the Early Bronze Age (the "Age of Taurus"), from about 4000 BCE to 1700 BCE. The Pleiades were closest to the Sun at vernal equinox around the 23rd century BC
23rd century BC
The 23rd century BC is a century which lasted from the year 2300 BC to 2201 BC.-Events:*2334 BC – 2279 BC: Sargon of Akkad's conquest of Mesopotamia....

. In Babylonian astronomy, the constellation was listed in the MUL.APIN
MUL.APIN is the conventional title given to a Babylonian compendium that deals with many diverse aspects of Babylonian astronomy and astrology....

 as , "The Heavenly Bull". As this constellation marked the vernal equinox, it was also the first constellation in the Babylonian zodiac and they described it as "The Bull in Front". The Akkadian
Akkadian language
Akkadian is an extinct Semitic language that was spoken in ancient Mesopotamia. The earliest attested Semitic language, it used the cuneiform writing system derived ultimately from ancient Sumerian, an unrelated language isolate...

 name was Alu. The Bull of Heaven was closely associated with Inanna in early Mesopotamian art. One of the earliest depictions shows the bull standing before the goddess' standard, as it has 3 stars depicted on its back (the cunieform sign for 'star-constellation') there is good reason to regard this as the constellation later known as Taurus.

The same iconic representation of the Heavenly Bull was depicted in the Dendera zodiac
Dendera zodiac
The sculptured Dendera zodiac is a widely known Egyptian bas-relief from the ceiling of the pronaos of a chapel dedicated to Osiris in the Hathor temple at Dendera, containing images of Taurus and the Libra . This chapel was begun in the late Ptolemaic period; its pronaos was added by the...

, an Egypt
Egypt , officially the Arab Republic of Egypt, Arabic: , is a country mainly in North Africa, with the Sinai Peninsula forming a land bridge in Southwest Asia. Egypt is thus a transcontinental country, and a major power in Africa, the Mediterranean Basin, the Middle East and the Muslim world...

ian bas-relief carving in a ceiling that depicted the celestial hemisphere using a planisphere
A planisphere is a star chart analog computing instrument in the form of two adjustable disks that rotate on a common pivot. It can be adjusted to display the visible stars for any time and date. It is an instrument to assist in learning how to recognize stars and constellations...

. In these ancient cultures, the orientation of the horns was portrayed as upward or backward. This differed from the later Greek depiction where the horns pointed forward. To the Egyptians, the constellation Taurus was a sacred bull that was associated with the renewal of life in spring. About 4,000 years ago, 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
Hebrews is an ethnonym used in the Hebrew Bible...

, Taurus was the first constellation in their zodiac and consequently it was represented by the first letter in their alphabet, Aleph
* Aleph or Alef is the first letter of the Semitic abjads descended from Proto-Canaanite, Arabic alphabet, Phoenician alphabet, Hebrew alphabet, Syriac alphabet-People:*Aleph , an Italo disco artist and alias of Dave Rodgers...


In Greek mythology
Greek mythology
Greek mythology is the body of myths and legends belonging to the ancient Greeks, concerning their gods and heroes, the nature of the world, and the origins and significance of their own cult and ritual practices. They were a part of religion in ancient Greece...

, Taurus was identified with Zeus
In the ancient Greek religion, Zeus was the "Father of Gods and men" who ruled the Olympians of Mount Olympus as a father ruled the family. He was the god of sky and thunder in Greek mythology. His Roman counterpart is Jupiter and his Etruscan counterpart is Tinia.Zeus was the child of Cronus...

, who assumed the form of a magnificent white bull to abduct Europa
Europa (mythology)
In Greek mythology Europa was a Phoenician woman of high lineage, from whom the name of the continent Europe has ultimately been taken. The name Europa occurs in Hesiod's long list of daughters of primordial Oceanus and Tethys...

, a legendary Phoenician princess. In illustrations, only the front portion of this constellation are depicted; in Greek mythology this was sometimes explained as Taurus being partly submerged as he carried Europa out to sea. Greek mythographer Acusilaus
Acusilaus of Argos, son of Cabas or Scabras, was a Greek logographer and mythographer who lived in the latter half of the 6th century BC but whose work survives only in fragments and summaries of individual points....

 marks the bull Taurus as the same that formed the myth of the Cretan Bull
Cretan Bull
In Greek mythology, the Cretan Bull was either the bull that carried away Europa or the bull Pasiphaë fell in love with, giving birth to the Minotaur.- Origin :...

, one of The Twelve Labors of Heracles
Heracles ,born Alcaeus or Alcides , was a divine hero in Greek mythology, the son of Zeus and Alcmene, foster son of Amphitryon and great-grandson of Perseus...


Taurus became an important object of worship among the Druid
A druid was a member of the priestly class in Britain, Ireland, and Gaul, and possibly other parts of Celtic western Europe, during the Iron Age....

s. Their Tauric religious festival was held while the Sun passed through the constellation.


, the Sun appears in the constellation Taurus from May 13 to June 21. In tropical astrology, the Sun is considered to be in the sign Taurus
Taurus (astrology)
Taurus is the second astrological sign in the Zodiac, which spans the zodiac between the 30th and 59th degree of celestial longitude. Generally, the Sun transits this area of the zodiac between April 21 to May 21 each year...

 from April 21 to May 20.

Further reading

  • Ian Ridpath
    Ian Ridpath
    Ian William Ridpath is an English science writer and broadcaster made famous for his investigation and explanation of the Rendlesham Forest Incident of December 1980....

     and Wil Tirion
    Wil Tirion
    Wil Tirion is a Dutch uranographer . His most famous work, Sky Atlas 2000.0, is renowned by astronomers for its accuracy and beauty. The second edition of his most complete work, Uranometria 2000.0, was published in 2001 by Willmann-Bell. He is also responsible for the sky charts found in many...

    (2007). Stars and Planets Guide, Collins, London. ISBN 978-0007251209. Princeton University Press, Princeton. ISBN 978-0691135564.

External links