Taurus the Bull is a fairly easy constellation to spot, right above Orion the Hunter. In fact, part of the legend of Taurus is that he and Orion are fighting, and he is kneeling and just about to lunge at the hunter.
There are two myths about bulls that are connected with Taurus.
The main one has to do with Zeus turning himself into a bull and kidnapping a princess named Europa for a swim across the Mediterranean. They ended up in Crete, where she became that ancient land’s first queen.
The other mythological bull that people say is Taurus started out in Crete. The Cretan Bull was a violent animal that was tearing up the island until Heracles captured him and brought him to Greece, then let him go.
The bull ran around Greece creating more problems, until the great hero, Theseus, who also killed the Minotaur, was able to put an end to this bull.
Or, at least, he put an end to him on earth, because there he is up in the stars!
But there are more myths about this constellation than just the ones about the bull.
His head is a cluster of stars called the Hyades.
The Hyades were among the daughters of Atlas, who had many daughters. The Hyades were particularly fond of their brother. He went hunting one day and was killed by a lion, and the Hyades were so upset that they died, too.
Zeus put them up in the sky, Their name in Greek means rain, and it was said that, when it rained, it was the Hyades weeping for their brother.
Over the bull’s shoulders are some more of Atlas’s daughters, the Pleiades. These “seven sisters” have many myths about them.
The main one for this constellation is that Orion got a crush on the youngest sister and wouldn’t leave her alone. After awhile, Zeus turned them into doves so they could fly away from him. (The name “Pleiades” means “dove.”)
He’s still bothering them, but Taurus won’t let him get too close.
Taurus is one of the best constellations to look at with binoculars, but you’ll see a lot just looking up on a dark night with your own eyes.
Orion is attacking Taurus, and Taurus is ready for trouble, so if you find Orion, you’ll find Taurus just above him and to the right. Look for the bright star Aldebaran in a V-shape that makes up the horns of Taurus.
Aldebaran is a red giant so big that, if it were our Sun, poor Mercury would be gobbled up in it. It’s the 19th brightest star in the heavens.
Aldebaran will be surrounded by lots of stars. That’s the open-star cluster of the Hyades, and it’s quite a sight with binoculars or a small telescope. The wider your lens, the more light it will gather and the more stars you’ll see -- there are plenty in this cluster!
If you search the Hyades with binoculars, you might see some double stars, too. There are several that you’ll be able to get a good view of, if the night is dark.
The Hyades and Aldebaran make up the bull’s head, with Aldebaran as his angry red eye, but the Hyades aren’t really very close to Aldebaran in space. They’re really much farther away from Earth.
The Pleiades are just where they belong to be protected from Orion. Look up above Aldebaran and you’ll find a fuzzy little patch of stars sitting safely on the bull’s shoulders.
With binoculars, you’ll see they are a star cluster, but much smaller and closer together than the Hyades. There are supposed to be seven Pleiades, but, without binoculars or a telescope, you’ll probably only see six of them.
Open star clusters like the Pleiades and Hyades are groups of young stars formed from the same huge cloud of hydrogen, which still hangs around as a fog. You’re looking at baby stars!
Both the Greek myth of the Seven Sisters and an Onondaga story of dancing children rising into the sky say that, at first there were seven in the group, but later there were only six.
The Greeks said one of the sisters was embarrassed and hid, the Indians said one of the children ran home at the last minute. Did one of the stars grow more dim over the centuries?
Text copyright 2006, Mike Peterson - Artwork copyright 2006, Dylan Meconis