Taurus – the constellation of the bull

Here’s a cool constellation to look for over the winter months in the northern hemisphere – Taurus. Taurus is visible in October and November to the Eastern horizon at sunset, is best viewed in December and January (especially if you don’t want to be up all night!) and by late March, is close to setting in the Western sky along with the Sun.

It’s one of the constellations lying along the ecliptic plane – the imaginary line that the Sun, planets and moons of the solar system appear to travel from our viewpoint on Earth.

The ‘pattern’ of stars is said to represent a horned bull and, like many constellations, it’s stepped in mythology of ancient civilisations.

Click on the image to watch the constellation of Taurus appear before you in amongst the stars.


Taurus - animated constellation

The brightest star in the constellation of Taurus is Aldebaran; known as ‘the follower’ it is the prominent bloodshot eye of the bull and lies some 65 light years from Earth. This star is a red giant and visible even from the city on a clear night. It get’s its Arabic name as the follower of the open star cluster, Pleiades. Often called the Seven Sisters, this cluster of stars (M45) is one of the closest clusters to Earth and composed mostly of young hot blue stars.

The Pleiades

The Pleiades. A color-composite image of the Pleiades from the Digitized Sky Survey. Credit: NASA/ESA/AURA/Caltech.

Forming the v-shape of the bull’s face is a familiar asterism – The Hyades. The stars in this open cluster are much older and cooler than those found in the Pleiades – many of them are either red giants or white dwarfs. The Hyades is nearer to Earth than the Pleiades (150 light years compared with about 430 light years); and they’re estimated to be around 7 times as old (700 million years).

In November, the Taurids appear to radiate from the direction of this constellation. The annual meteor shower is caused by remnants of the comet Encke and are sometimes known as the Halloween Fireballs along with being slightly bigger pieces of matter (about pebble size) compared to the dust particles of other meteor showers we experience.

About Derek Shirlaw

I'm passionate about science communication, social media, and my home country, Scotland. In particular, I have a real interest in astronomy, digital marketing, and the great outdoors.
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