Taurus the Bull is hard to miss as he charges through the northern winter sky as it is one of the most prominent and visible of all of the constellations. The Bull is also one of the oldest documented constellations, with details of the constellation going as far back as the Early Bronze Age. Taurus is the 17th largest constellation in the sky, occupying an area of 797 square degrees.
The Bull passes through the sky from November to March, but is at its most visible in January. Taurus, nestled between the constellations Aries and Gemini, is prominent in the skies of the Northern Hemi-sphere.
It is located in the first quadrant of the northern hemisphere, and can be seen at latitudes between +90° and -65°. Other neighboring constellations are Auriga, Cetus, Eridanus, Orion and Perseus. The position of the Taurus constellation plays a significant role in astrology.
Aldebaran (Alpha Tauri) is the brightest star in the constellation and the 13th brightest star in the sky. Its name comes from the Arabic al-dabarān, which means “the follower.” It is also sometimes called the Bull’s Eye because it lies in the head of Taurus. Aldebaran is an orange-red giant about 65 light-years distant. It has a diameter 44.2 times that of the Sun and is about 425 times more luminous. It is pretty easy to find in the sky as it lies in the vicinity of Orion constellation, and the three bright stars that form Orion’s Belt point in its direction. Aldebaran lies pretty close to the ecliptc and can be occulted by the Moon.
El Nath (Beta Tauri) is the second brightest star in Taurus. Its name is derived from the Arabic word an-naţħ, which means “the butting,” referring to the bull’s horns. El Nath is a B class star evolving into a giant. It is approximately 131 light years distant. It is 700 times more luminous than the Sun. Like Aldebaran, it lies near the ecliptic and can be occulted by the Moon.
Alcyone (Eta Tauri) is the third brightest star in Taurus constellation and the brightest member of the Pleiades cluster. It was named after one of the mythological Pleiades. It is a multiple star system with a blue-white giant for a primary component. It has ten times the Sun’s radius and is about 2,400 times more luminous and has a disk of gas surrounding it at the equator. Alcyone is approximately 440 light years distant.
In addition to Aldebaran, the constellation’s other major star cluster is the Pleiades. The Pleiades, also known as Messier 45 or the Seven Sisters, are a group of stars that form a young open cluster in Taurus. The Pleiades cluster is composed mostly of hot, blue, extremely luminous stars. It is the easiest cluster to find without the aid of binoculars. Lying about 440 light years distant, it is one of the nearest star clusters to Earth. It contains more than a thousand stars. The brightest nine are named after the Pleiades, the Seven Sisters in Greek mythology, and their parents, the titan Atlas and the sea-nymph Pleione. In the myth, Atlas was one of the titans who fought against Zeus and other Olympian gods and, once the titans were defeated, he was forced to carry the heavens on his shoulders as punishment. With Atlas out of the way, the hunter Orion started pursuing his daughters and Zeus turned them into stars to prevent Orion from catching them. The celestial Orion still follows the Pleiades across the sky.
In the northwest part of Taurus is the supernova remnant Messier 1, commonly referred to as the Crab Nebula (NGC 1952), which is located above the tip of the bull’s bottom horn. The Crab Nebula is the first Messier object ever to be listed. It is a pulsar wind nebula, which means that it is powered by the wind of a pulsar, found inside the shell of a supernova remnant. The Crab Pulsar, a rotating neutron star that emits gamma rays and radio waves, lies at the core of nebula. The Crab Nebula is approximately 6,500 light years distant and expanding at the rate of 1,500 kilometers per second.
The Taurus myth is most often interpreted as the story of Zeus and Europa, where the Greek god carried the Phoenician princess away to Crete to marry her by disguising himself as a white bull.
The Scriptures of Delphi give us another possible explanation of the Taurus constellation.
According to the alternate myth, the mythology of Taurus begins with a wandering bull known as Cerus. Cerus was a large and powerful bull who villagers were terrified of because of his tendency to trample their villages to pieces on a whim. He was owned by no one, and none of the farmers knew where he came from. Though he was not immortal, most people assumed him to be because of his sheer size and strength and the fact that despite all of the destruction he caused nobody was ever able to stop him.
The bull is wild and out of control, choosing to follow his emotions on a whim. One day the Spring goddess Persephone finds him trampling through a field of recently-bloomed flowers and goes to him. Though he cannot speak, he seems to understand her and her presence calms him. They form a bond together, and the bull learns to behave himself. Persephone teaches the bull patience and how to use his strength wisely.
After, in fact, every year in the spring when Persephone returns to the land, Cerus returns to the land to join her. She sits upon his back and he runs her through the fields, allowing her to set all of the plants in bloom as they ride by. In the fall when Persephone returns to Hades, Cerus returns to the sky as the Taurus constellation.