Taurus (constellation)

Last updated
Taurus IAU.svg
AbbreviationTau [1] [2]
Genitive Tauri [1]
Symbolismthe Bull [1]
Right ascension 4.9h [4]
Declination 19° [4]
Area 797 sq. deg. (17th)
Main stars 19
Stars with planets 9 candidates [lower-alpha 1]
Stars brighter than 3.00m4
Stars within 10.00 pc (32.62 ly)1 [lower-alpha 2]
Brightest star Aldebaran (α Tau) (0.85 m )
Messier objects 2
Meteor showers
Visible at latitudes between +90° and −65°.
Best visible at 21:00 (9 p.m.) during the month of January.

Taurus (Latin for "the Bull") is one of the constellations of the zodiac and is located in the Northern celestial hemisphere. Taurus is a large and prominent constellation in the northern hemisphere's winter sky. It is one of the oldest constellations, dating 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. The symbol representing Taurus is Taurus.svg (Unicode ♉), which resembles a bull's head.


A number of features exist that are of interest to astronomers. Taurus hosts two of the nearest open clusters to Earth, the Pleiades and the Hyades, both of which are visible to the naked eye. 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. One of the closest regions of active star formation, the Taurus-Auriga complex, crosses into the northern part of the constellation. The variable star T Tauri is the prototype of a class of pre-main-sequence stars.


Taurus is a large and prominent constellation in the northern hemisphere's winter sky, between Aries to the west and Gemini to the east; to the north lies Perseus and Auriga, to the southeast Orion, to the south Eridanus, and to the southwest Cetus. In late November-early December, Taurus reaches opposition (furthest point from the Sun) and is visible the entire night. By late March, it is setting at sunset and completely disappears behind the Sun's glare from May to July. [5]

This constellation forms part of the zodiac and hence is intersected by the ecliptic. This circle across the celestial sphere forms the apparent path of the Sun as the Earth completes its annual orbit. As the orbital plane of the Moon and the planets lie near the ecliptic, they can usually be found in the constellation Taurus during some part of each year. [5] The galactic plane of the Milky Way intersects the northeast corner of the constellation and the galactic anticenter is located near the border between Taurus and Auriga. Taurus is the only constellation crossed by all three of the galactic equator, celestial equator, and ecliptic. A ring-like galactic structure known as Gould's Belt passes through the constellation. [6]

The recommended three-letter abbreviation for the constellation, as adopted by the International Astronomical Union in 1922, is "Tau". [2] The official constellation boundaries, as set by Belgian astronomer Eugène Delporte in 1930, are defined by a polygon of 26 segments. In the equatorial coordinate system, the right ascension coordinates of these borders lie between 03h 23.4m and 05h 53.3m, while the declination coordinates are between 31.10° and −1.35°. [7] Because a small part of the constellation lies to the south of the celestial equator, this can not be a completely circumpolar constellation at any latitude. [8]


The constellation Taurus as it can be seen by the naked eye. The constellation lines have been added for clarity. TaurusCC.jpg
The constellation Taurus as it can be seen by the naked eye. The constellation lines have been added for clarity.

During November, the Taurid meteor shower 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. [10] Between 18 and 29 October, both the Northern Taurids and the Southern Taurids are active; though the latter stream is stronger. [11] However, between November 1 and 10, the two streams equalize. [12]

The brightest member of this constellation is Aldebaran, an orange-hued, spectral class K5 III giant star. [13] Its name derives from الدبران al-dabarān, Arabic for "the follower", probably from the fact that it follows the Pleiades during the nightly motion of the celestial sphere across the sky. [14] [15] [16] Forming the profile of a Bull's face is a V or K-shaped asterism of stars. This outline is created by prominent members of the Hyades, [17] the nearest distinct open star cluster after the Ursa Major Moving Group. [18] In this profile, Aldebaran forms the bull's bloodshot eye, which has been described as "glaring menacingly at the hunter Orion", [19] 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. [20] It includes a naked eye double star, Theta Tauri (the proper name of Theta2 Tauri is Chakumuy) [21] , with a separation of 5.6  arcminutes. [22]

In the northeastern quadrant of the Taurus constellation lie the Pleiades (M45), 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 six, and so the cluster is also named the "Seven Sisters". However, many more stars are visible with even a modest telescope. [23] Astronomers estimate that the cluster has approximately 500-1,000 stars, all of which are around 100 million years old. However, they vary considerably in type. The Pleiades themselves are represented by large, bright stars; also many small brown dwarfs and white dwarfs exist. The cluster is estimated to dissipate in another 250 million years. [24] The Pleiades cluster is classified as a Shapley class c and Trumpler class I 3 r n cluster, indicating that it is irregularly shaped and loose, though concentrated at its center and detached from the star-field. [25]

Deep-sky objects

In the northern part of the constellation to the northwest of the Pleiades lies the Crystal Ball Nebula, known by its catalogue designation of NGC 1514. This planetary nebula is of historical interest following its discovery by German-born English astronomer William Herschel in 1790. Prior to that time, astronomers had assumed that nebulae were simply unresolved groups of stars. However, Herschel could clearly resolve a star at the center of the nebula that was surrounded by a nebulous cloud of some type. In 1864, English astronomer William Huggins used the spectrum of this nebula to deduce that the nebula is a luminous gas, rather than stars. [26]

To the west, the two horns of the bull are formed by Beta (β) Tauri and Zeta (ζ) Tauri; 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. [27] At magnitude 1.65, it is the second brightest star in the constellation, and shares the border with the neighboring constellation of Auriga. As a result, it also bears the designation Gamma Aurigae. Zeta Tauri (the proper name is Tianguan [21] ) is an eclipsing binary star that completes an orbit every 133 days. [13]

Brightest NGC objects in Taurus [28]
Identifier Mag. Object type
NGC 1514 10.9 planetary nebula
NGC 1647 6.4 open cluster
NGC 1746 6 asterism [29]
NGC 1817 7.7open cluster
NGC 1952 8.4 supernova remnant (M1)

A degree to the northwest of ζ Tauri is the Crab Nebula (M1), a supernova remnant. This expanding nebula was created by a Type II supernova 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. [30] [31] North American peoples also observed the supernova, as evidenced from a painting on a New Mexican canyon and various pieces of pottery that depict the event. However, the remnant itself was not discovered until 1731, when John Bevis found it. [24]

The star Lambda (λ) Tauri 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 lies almost along the line of sight to the Earth. Every 3.953 days the system temporarily decreases in brightness by 1.1 magnitudes as the brighter star is partially eclipsed by the dimmer companion. The two stars are separated by only 0.1 astronomical units, so their shapes are modified by mutual tidal interaction. This results in a variation of their net magnitude throughout each orbit. [32]

Central area of constellation Taurus, showing Aldebaran at the lower left. Central area of constellation Taurus.jpg
Central area of constellation Taurus, showing Aldebaran at the lower left.

Located about 1.8° west of Epsilon (ε) Tauri is T Tauri, the prototype of a class of variable stars called T Tauri stars. This star undergoes erratic changes in luminosity, varying between magnitude 9 to 13 over a period of weeks or months. [5] 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 star. [33] The surrounding reflection nebula NGC 1555 is illuminated by T Tauri, and thus is also variable in luminosity. [34] To the north lies Kappa Tauri, a visual double star consisting of two A7-type components. The pair have a separation of just 5.6 arc minutes, making them a challenge to split with the naked eye. [35]

IRAS 05437+2502, a nebula Nebula in Taurus.jpg
IRAS 05437+2502, a nebula

This constellation includes part of the Taurus-Auriga complex, or Taurus dark clouds, a star-forming region containing sparse, filamentary clouds of gas and dust. This spans a diameter of 98 light-years (30 parsecs ) and contains 35,000  solar masses of material, which is both larger and less massive than the Orion Nebula. [36] At a distance of 490 light-years (150 parsecs), this is one of the nearest active star forming regions. [37] Located in this region, about 10° to the northeast of Aldebaran, is an asterism NGC 1746 spanning a width of 45 arcminutes. [29]

History and mythology

Constellation Taureau - al-Sufi.jpg
Taurus as depicted in the astronomical treatise Book of Fixed Stars by the Persian astronomer Abd al-Rahman al-Sufi, c. 964.
Sidney Hall - Urania's Mirror - Taurus.jpg
Taurus as depicted in Urania's Mirror , a set of constellation cards published in London c.1825.

The identification of the constellation of Taurus with a bull is very old, certainly dating to the Chalcolithic, and perhaps even to the Upper Paleolithic. Michael Rappenglück of the University of Munich believes that Taurus is represented in a cave painting at the Hall of the Bulls in the caves at Lascaux (dated to roughly 15,000 BC), which he believes is accompanied by a depiction of the Pleiades. [38] [39] The name "seven sisters" has been used for the Pleiades in the languages of many cultures, including indigenous groups of Australia, North America and Siberia. This suggests that the name may have a common ancient origin. [40]

Taurus marked the point of vernal (spring) equinox in the Chalcolithic and the Early Bronze Age, from about 4000 BC to 1700 BC, after which it moved into the neighboring constellation Aries. [41] The Pleiades were closest to the Sun at vernal equinox around the 23rd century BC. In Babylonian astronomy, the constellation was listed in the MUL.APIN as GU4.AN.NA, "The Bull of Heaven". [42] Although it has been claimed that "when the Babylonians first set up their zodiac, the vernal equinox lay in Taurus," [43] there is a claim that the MUL.APIN tablets indicate [44] that the vernal equinox was marked by the Babylonian constellation known as "the hired man" (the modern Aries). [45]

In the Old Babylonian Epic of Gilgamesh , the goddess Ishtar sends Taurus, the Bull of Heaven, to kill Gilgamesh for spurning her advances. [46] 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, [47] while others identify him with the sun whose rising on the equinox vanquishes the constellation. 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 (the cuneiform sign for "star-constellation"), there is good reason to regard this as the constellation later known as Taurus. [48]

The same iconic representation of the Heavenly Bull was depicted in the Dendera zodiac, an Egyptian bas-relief carving in a ceiling that depicted the celestial hemisphere using a planisphere. 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. [49] 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. [50] 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. [51]

In 1990, due to the precession of the equinoxes, the position of the Sun on the first day of summer (June 21) crossed the IAU boundary of Gemini into Taurus. [52] The Sun will slowly move through Taurus at a rate of 1° east every 72 years until approximately 2600 AD, at which point it will be in Aries on the first day of summer.[ citation needed ]

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. [53] Greek mythographer Acusilaus marks the bull Taurus as the same that formed the myth of the Cretan Bull, one of The Twelve Labors of Heracles. [54]

Taurus became an important object of worship among the Druids. Their Tauric religious festival was held while the Sun passed through the constellation. [41] Among the arctic people known as the Inuit, the constellation is called Sakiattiat and the Hyades is Nanurjuk, with the latter representing the spirit of the polar bear. Aldebaran represents the bear, with the remainder of the stars in the Hyades being dogs that are holding the beast at bay. [55]

In Buddhism, legends hold that Gautama Buddha was born when the full moon was in Vaisakha, or Taurus. [56] Buddha's birthday is celebrated with the Wesak Festival, or Vesākha, which occurs on the first or second full moon when the Sun is in Taurus. [57]


As of 2008, the Sun appears in the constellation Taurus from May 13 to June 21. [58] In tropical astrology, the Sun is considered to be in the sign Taurus from April 20 to May 20. [59]

Space exploration

The space probe Pioneer 10 is moving in the direction of this constellation, though it will not be nearing any of the stars in this constellation for many thousands of years, by which time its batteries will be long dead. [60]

Solar eclipse of May 29, 1919

Several stars in the Hyades star cluster, including Kappa Tauri, were photographed during the total solar eclipse of May 29, 1919, by the expedition of Arthur Eddington in Príncipe and others in Sobral, Brazil, that confirmed Albert Einstein's prediction of the bending of light around the Sun according to his general theory of relativity which he published in 1915. [61]

See also


  1. Stars with candidate extrasolar planets: Epsilon Tauri, Gliese 176, HD 24040, HD 37124, 2M J044144, LkCa 15, HD 28678, HD 285507, HL Tauri, and FW Tauri.
  2. This is Gliese 176.

Related Research Articles

Ara (constellation) Constellation in the southern celestial hemisphere

Ara, the southern constellation between Scorpius, Telescopium, Triangulum Australe and Norma, was one of the Greek bulk described by the 2nd-century astronomer Ptolemy, and it remains one of the 88 modern constellations defined by the International Astronomical Union.

Aldebaran star in the constellation Taurus

Aldebaran, designated α Tauri, is an orange giant star measured to be about 65 light-years from the Sun in the zodiac constellation Taurus. It is the brightest star in Taurus and generally the fourteenth-brightest star in the night sky, though it varies slowly in brightness between magnitude 0.75 and 0.95. Aldebaran is believed to host a planet several times the mass of Jupiter, named Aldebaran b.

Bayer designation Star naming system

A Bayer designation is a stellar designation in which a specific star is identified by a Greek or Latin letter followed by the genitive form of its parent constellation's Latin name. The original list of Bayer designations contained 1,564 stars. The brighter stars were assigned their first systematic names by the German astronomer Johann Bayer in 1603, in his star atlas Uranometria. Bayer catalogued only a few stars too far south to be seen from Germany, but later astronomers supplemented Bayer's catalog with entries for southern constellations.

Constellation Group of visible stars forming a pattern on the celestial sphere

A constellation is an area on the celestial sphere in which a group of visible stars forms a perceived outline or pattern, typically representing an animal, mythological person or creature, or an inanimate object.

Carina (constellation) Constellation in the southern celestial hemisphere

Carina is a constellation in the southern sky. Its name is Latin for the hull or keel of a ship, and it was the southern foundation of the larger constellation of Argo Navis until it was divided into three pieces, the other two being Puppis, and Vela.

Corona Australis Constellation in the southern celestial hemisphere

Corona Australis is a constellation in the Southern Celestial Hemisphere. Its Latin name means "southern crown", and it is the southern counterpart of Corona Borealis, the northern crown. It is one of the 48 constellations listed by the 2nd-century astronomer Ptolemy, and it remains one of the 88 modern constellations. The Ancient Greeks saw Corona Australis as a wreath rather than a crown and associated it with Sagittarius or Centaurus. Other cultures have likened the pattern to a turtle, ostrich nest, a tent, or even a hut belonging to a rock hyrax.

Chamaeleon Constellation in the southern celestial hemisphere

Chamaeleon is a small constellation in the southern sky. It is named after the chameleon, a kind of lizard. It was first defined in the 16th century.

Libra (constellation) Zodiac constellation in the southern celestial hemisphere

Libra is a constellation of the zodiac and is located in the Southern celestial hemisphere. Its name is Latin for weighing scales, and its symbol is . It is fairly faint, with no first magnitude stars, and lies between Virgo to the west and Scorpius to the east. Beta Librae, also known as Zubeneschamali, is the brightest star in the constellation. Three star systems are known to have planets.

Lupus (constellation) Constellation in the southern celestial hemisphere

Lupus is a constellation located in the deep Southern Sky. Its name is Latin for wolf. Lupus was one of the 48 constellations listed by the 2nd-century astronomer Ptolemy, and it remains one of the 88 modern constellations, although it was previously an asterism associated with the neighboring constellation Centaurus.

Ophiuchus Zodiac constellation straddling the celestial equator

Ophiuchus is a large constellation straddling the celestial equator. Its name is from the Greek Ὀφιοῦχος, and it is commonly represented as a man grasping a snake. The serpent is represented by the constellation Serpens. Ophiuchus was one of the 48 constellations listed by the 2nd-century astronomer Ptolemy, and it remains one of the 88 modern constellations. It was formerly referred to as Serpentarius.

Scutum (constellation) Constellation in the southern celestial hemisphere

Scutum is a small constellation. Its name is Latin for shield, and it was originally named Scutum Sobiescianum by Johannes Hevelius in 1684. It lies entirely in the southern celestial hemisphere and its four brightest stars form a narrow diamond shape. It is one of the 88 IAU designated constellations defined in 1922.

Pleiades Open cluster in the constellation of Taurus

The Pleiades, also known as the Seven Sisters and Messier 45, are an open star cluster containing middle-aged, hot B-type stars in the north-west of the constellation Taurus. It is among the star clusters nearest to Earth, it is the nearest Messier object to Earth, and is the cluster most obvious to the naked eye in the night sky.

Hyades (star cluster) Open cluster located in the constellation Taurus. Closest star cluster to Earth.

The Hyades is the nearest open cluster and one of the best-studied star clusters. Located about 153 light-years away from the Sun, it consists of a roughly spherical group of hundreds of stars sharing the same age, place of origin, chemical characteristics, and motion through space. From the perspective of observers on Earth, the Hyades Cluster appears in the constellation Taurus, where its brightest stars form a "V" shape along with the still-brighter Aldebaran. However, Aldebaran is unrelated to the Hyades, as it is located much closer to Earth and merely happens to lie along the same line of sight.

Beta Tauri

Beta Tauri, officially named Elnath, is the second-brightest star located in the constellation borders of Taurus and Auriga with an apparent magnitude of 1.65. It is a chemically peculiar B7 giant star, 134 light years away from Earth. It had a co-existing name Gamma Aurigae.

Perseus (constellation) Constellation in the northern celestial hemisphere

Perseus is a constellation in the northern sky, being named after the Greek mythological hero Perseus. It is one of the 48 ancient constellations listed by the 2nd-century astronomer Ptolemy, and among the 88 modern constellations defined by the International Astronomical Union (IAU). It is located near several other constellations named after ancient Greek legends surrounding Perseus, including Andromeda to the west and Cassiopeia to the north. Perseus is also bordered by Aries and Taurus to the south, Auriga to the east, Camelopardalis to the north, and Triangulum to the west. Some star atlases during the early 19th century also depicted Perseus holding the disembodied head of Medusa, whose asterism was named together as Perseus et Caput Medusae; however, this never came into popular usage.

Auriga (constellation) Constellation in the northern celestial hemisphere

Auriga is one of the 88 modern constellations; it was among the 48 constellations listed by the 2nd-century astronomer Ptolemy. It is north of the celestial equator. Its name is Latin for “(the) charioteer”, associating it with various mythological beings, including Erichthonius and Myrtilus. Auriga is most prominent during winter evenings in the northern Hemisphere, as are five other constellations that have stars in the Winter Hexagon asterism. Because of its northern declination, Auriga is only visible in its entirety as far as 34° south; for observers farther south it lies partially or fully below the horizon. A large constellation, with an area of 657 square degrees, it is half the size of the largest, Hydra.

Cepheus (constellation) Constellation in the northern celestial hemisphere

Cepheus is a constellation in the northern sky, named after Cepheus, a king of Aethiopia in Greek mythology.

Eridanus (constellation) Constellation in the southern hemisphere

Eridanus is a constellation in the southern celestial hemisphere. It is represented as a 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 constellations. The same name was later taken as a Latin name for the real Po River and also for the name of a minor river in Athens.

Delta<sup>3</sup> Tauri Star in the constellation Taurus

Delta3 Tauri is a binary star system in the zodiac constellation of Taurus. Based upon an annual parallax shift of 21.96 mas as seen from Earth, it is located roughly 149 light years distant from the Sun. It is visible to the naked eye with a combined apparent visual magnitude of +4.32. δ3 Tauri is separated from δ1 Tauri by 0.72° on the sky. This star also has the traditional Latin name Cleeia, from the Greek Kleeia, who was one of the Hyades sisters. It is considered a member of the Hyades cluster.

Gemini (constellation) Zodiac constellation in the northern hemisphere

Gemini is one of the constellations of the zodiac and is located in the northern celestial hemisphere. It was one of the 48 constellations described by the 2nd century AD 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. Its symbol is .


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Book references

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