This region of the sky has been seen as a bull's head and forelegs since classical times, and perhaps
even earlier. The Greeks identified the bull form as none other than Zeus himself, in the shape he took to pursue
The brightest and best known of Taurus' stars
is the orange giant Aldebaran,
an irregular variable star that forms the 'eye' of the bull,
and is relatively close to the Solar System at a distance of 65
light years. Also prominent in this constellation is
first magnitude Elnath, a
blue star that forms the tip of Taurus' northern horn.
Taurus is home to two of the most important star clusters in the sky, both of which are
clearly visible to the naked eye. The most famous of these is the Pleiades
cluster, named after the daughters of Atlas and Pleione
(who each have their own star within the cluster). The
Pleiades is a relatively young cluster, whose
blue stars are still emerging from their nursery of shimmering
gas and dust. It contains about one hundred stars in total, but only a few of these are visible
without a telescope. The Pleiades are more than 400
light years from Earth.
Less than half as far away (150 light years to be precise), is a
cluster named for the half-sisters of the Pleiades,
the Hyades. The Hyades
cluster is so close that it covers a significant area of the sky: its
diameter of 8° is about fourteen times that of the full
Moon. The Hyades is very easy to locate, because its
stars form the triangular 'face' of the bull, behind the unrelated 'eye'
Near Zeta Tauri, the star marking the tip of Taurus' southern 'horn', is the first object in
Messier's catalogue, better known as the Crab Nebula.
This is the rapidly expanding remnant of a supernova seen from Earth in
the year 1054. The Nebula itself represents the material thrown out from the outer layers of a
dying star, but what remains of the star's core still lies
at the heart of the nebulous region. This is a neutron star spinning on its axis
thirty times a second, of the type categorised as a pulsar.