Constellation Taurus, which is Latin for "bull", is the
second sign of the zodiac. In ancient astronomy the Chinese called
it "White Tiger" or "Great Bridge" and for the Egyptians
it represented the bull Apis, one form of Osiris. In Egypt and also in
ancient Babylonia it was the first sign of the zodiac and they Babylonian
astronomers subsequently called it Aleph, after the first letter of their
alphabet. The reason was that four thousand years ago, at spring equinox
(vernal equinox) the sun would stand in this constellation. The spring equinox
marked the start of the new year and it was an important time in the year,
when it was time to start working in the fields with plowing and sowing.
In Greek mythology, there are many stories about Taurus. According
to one story, the bull Taurus is in place to protect the Pleiades, which are
inside the constellation itself, from the hunter Orion. Perhaps the most
famous story is the one about when Zeus/Jupiter fell in love with Europa,
daughter of Phonecian king Agenor. Europa was guarded day and night, so Zeus
could not find a way to approach her. One day Zeus took the form of a giant
white bull and hid inside a giant royal herd grazing by the sea. As Europa
walked by on the beach, she spotted the beautiful beast with the golden horns
and climbed to its back. Zeus then snuck down to the sea and flew away to
Crete, where they became lovers, after Zeus returned to a more human form, one
have to assume.
In modern astronomy, the constellation is an interesting object to
study. It lies on the ecliptic and the sun passes trough it in May and June.
There are about 130 stars inside Taurus, the most notable the alpha star (Alpha
Tauri) Aldebaran, which is one of the brightest stars of the night sky.
Aldebaran is a red giant about 50 times larger than the Sun and have a
magnitude of 0.85. Inside the Taurus we also find the two open star clusters
Hyades and Pleiades (M45). Hyades make out the head of the bull, and
inside them you can see the double star theta Tauri which is divisible by
the naked eye sometimes. The Pleiades are a group of stars (seven sisters,
actually), that usually appear as a blur, but can be easily divisible with
binoculars. Another interesting object in Taurus is the famous and picturesque Crab
Nebula (M1). It is the remnants of an old supernova that was recorded
by the Chinese in 1054, and it was a spectacular show. The supernova was so
bright that it was visible in full daylight. The Crab Nebula is 5000 light
years away, compared to 68 for Aldebaran.
This is what the constellation looks like, ascii wise. The dots are just to
connect the stars. Beta tauri and the star below to the left make out the horns
of the bull. The Hyades are supposed to be the head and the other stars make out the torso.
Crab Nebula * oooo Pleiades
o . ooo
Aldebaran O o Hyades