Taurus: the Bull Constellation

~7 min
Constellation Taurus

Taurus is a well-known constellation of the northern celestial hemisphere. It belongs to the zodiac family and can be seen in the night sky from November to March. Read this article to learn what stars make up the Taurus constellation and what interesting objects can be found within its borders.

Contents

Taurus constellation facts#

  • Name: Taurus (the Bull)
  • Abbreviation: Tau
  • Size: 797 sq. deg.
  • Right ascension: 4.9 h
  • Declination: 19°
  • Visible between: 90°N – 65°S
  • Celestial hemisphere: Northern
  • Brightest star: Aldebaran (Alpha Tauri)
  • Main stars: 19
  • Messier DSO: 2
  • Bordering constellations: Auriga, Perseus, Aries, Cetus, Eridanus, Orion, Gemini

Taurus location#

Taurus is visible at latitudes between 90°N and 65°S. It takes up 797 square degrees of the sky and is the 17th largest of 88 constellations.

As a zodiac constellation, Taurus lies on the ecliptic, an imaginary line that marks the annual path of the Sun on the celestial dome. Due to this, Taurus is unobservable from about May 14 to June 21 as it hosts the Sun. At the end of the year, the constellation is opposite the Sun and stays high in the sky all night long, so it is the best time to observe it. Then, Taurus spends less and less time in the night sky. By late March, it sets right after sunset.

Where is Taurus in the sky?#

Taurus is placed between the constellations Aries and Gemini; Perseus and Auriga can be found above the Bull’s head (Taurus and Auriga also share a star named Elnath). Taurus is also bordered by Orion, which is easy to identify (thanks to the famous Orion’s Belt) and can help locate the nearby constellations.

How to find the Taurus constellation?#

You can use the prominent Orion’s Belt asterism as a waymark to Aldebaran, the brightest star in Taurus that marks the bull’s eye. The rest of the stars might not be so clearly visible, and you’ll need binoculars to spot them.

Learn how to identify the most famous stars: Polaris, Sirius, Arcturus, and many others. Familiarize yourself with the night sky using this infographic!
See Infographic

The Taurus constellation represents the head and front legs of the bull (not the whole body). Start with drawing an imaginary line through the three stars of the Orion’s Belt. Then stretch the line towards Orion’s shield (upwards for the Northern Hemisphere and downwards for the Southern Hemisphere) and follow it to see the luminous reddish star Aldebaran. Here’s a quick tip: Sirius is roughly the same distance from Orion as Aldebaran, so if you can locate it, you can understand how far you need to extend the line.

Aldebaran is a part of a V-shaped asterism, which is the bull’s face. The rest of the stars are the brightest members of the Hyades – Prima Hyadum, Secunda Hyadum, θ Tauri (Theta Tauri), and ε Tauri (Epsilon Tauri, also known as Ain, which represents the second eye). Extend the sides of the letter V and find the most prominent stars in the constellation, Tianguan and Elnath (the bull’s horns), on its ends.

The arrow formed by the V-shaped asterism points at λ Tauri (Lambda Tauri), which marks the bull’s neck. In the same direction, you can find ξ Tauri (Xi Tauri) and ο Tauri (Omicron Tauri) shining close to each other; they form the bull’s shoulder. The two legs – 10 Tauri and ν Tauri (Nu Tauri) – lead down from the shoulders.

How to find the Taurus constellation via stargazing apps?#

The easiest way to find Taurus is to use stargazing apps. This way, you will not be mistaken and will identify all the stars correctly. We’ll explain how to find the constellation using the Star Walk 2 and Sky Tonight apps.

Star Walk 2:

  • Launch the app and tap the magnifier icon in the lower-left corner of the screen;
  • Type “Taurus” in the search bar;
  • Tap the corresponding search result;
  • You’ll see the constellation’s current position in the sky;
  • Point your device at the sky and follow the white arrow to find the constellation.

Sky Tonight:

  • Launch the app and tap the magnifier icon at the lower part of the screen;
  • Type “Taurus” in the search bar;
  • Tap the target icon opposite the corresponding search result;
  • You’ll see the constellation’s current position in the sky;
  • Point your device at the sky and follow the white arrow to find the constellation.

Bright stars in the Taurus constellation#

Taurus holds four stars that are brighter than the 3rd magnitude: Aldebaran, Elnath, Alcyone, and Tianguan. Since Alcyone is rather part of the Pleiades star cluster than Taurus’ outline, let's focus on the other three stars.

Aldebaran – α Tauri#

Aldebaran (α Tau, Alpha Tauri, HIP 21421, HR 1457) is the most prominent star in Taurus and the 14th-brightest star in the night sky: its apparent magnitude varies from 0.75 to 0.95. It is a red giant about 350,000 times bigger and 400 times more luminous than the Sun. Aldebaran appears to chase the Pleiades across the night sky, which is why its name means “the follower” in Arabic. Ancient Persians also considered Aldebaran one of the Four Royal Stars, along with Regulus, Antares, and Fomalhaut.

Elnath – β Tauri#

Elnath (β Tau, Beta Tauri, HIP 25428, HR 1791) is the 2nd-brightest star in Taurus (magnitude 1.65). It is a B-class giant that is 700 times more luminous than the Sun. The name originates from the Arabic word meaning “the butting” since the star marks the bull’s left horn. It was formerly assigned to both Taurus and Auriga, as it was placed on the border between the two constellations. Later, when the boundaries were revised, it was assigned to be a part of Taurus only.

Tianguan – ζ Tauri#

Tianguan (ζ Tau, Zeta Tauri, HIP 26451, HR 1910) is a binary star system that has a visual magnitude of about 3. In the constellation Taurus, it can be found on the tip of the bull’s right horn. The name was taken from Chinese astronomy and means “the Celestial Gate” (in Chinese uranography, the name is used to denote an asterism of which ζ Tauri is the main star).

119 Tauri – the Ruby Star#

Bonus from astronomer Chris Vaughan aka AstroGeoGuy. He also advises paying attention to 119 Tauri – a magnitude 4.3 star that can be found by the side of Tianguan. It’s a variable star that pulsates every 165 days. It is also known as the Ruby Star for its rich red color. You can spot it without optical devices, given the dark skies with no light pollution.

Deep-sky objects in the Taurus constellation#

There are 86 deep-sky objects within Taurus’ boundaries. Two of them are listed in the Messier catalog.

Pleiades#

The Pleiades (M45) is an open star cluster that is one of the most prominent deep-sky objects. It has a magnitude of 1.6 and is visible even with the unaided eye. To locate the cluster in the night sky, draw a line through the three stars of the Orion’s Belt and Aldebaran. In this direction, you’ll see a star pattern resembling a smaller copy of the Big Dipper shrouded in a bluish haze.

Hyades#

The Hyades (Caldwell 41, Collinder 50, Melotte 25) is an open star cluster named after the five half-sisters of the Pleiades. It is one of the best-studied star clusters, which is also the nearest to the Solar System. It’s a naked-eye object (magnitude 0.5), and its brightest stars are a part of the V-shaped star pattern that outlines the bull’s face. Along with the Pleiades, it forms an asterism known as the Golden Gate of the Ecliptic.

Crab Nebula#

The Crab Nebula (M1, NGC 1952) is a remnant of a supernova recorded in 1054 by Chinese astronomers. The nebula inspired the creation of the Messier catalog. After Charles Messier confused it with Halley's comet, he decided to collect such objects in one list so as not to make such mistakes again. The nebula has a magnitude of 8.6 and can’t be seen without optical devices. It can be found near Tianguan, at the tip of the bull's right horn. Take our quiz to see if you can tell the Crab Nebula from other nebulae!

Astronomers are weird people and they often name things according to their strange ideas. Let’s see how weird you are – try to guess a nebula’s name from its picture!
Take the quiz!

Myths about Taurus#

The first mention of Taurus dates back to the Copper and Early Bronze Ages. Many peoples around the world made up their own stories about the celestial bull. Greek and Babylonian myths became one of the most famous.

Taurus in Greek mythology#

In Greek mythology, Taurus is a bull that Zeus turned himself into in order to abduct the Phoenician princess named Europa. According to the myth, once Zeus saw Europa, he was amazed by her beauty and fell in love with her. He took the form of a bull with a snow-white body and shiny horns. Seeing such a wonderful animal, Europe approached him and then climbed on his back. Once she did it, Zeus carried her away to the island of Crete, where he regained his human form and showered the girl with gifts, begging her to become his lover. The other version says Taurus represents Io, Zeus’ mistress, whom he turned into a heifer to hide from his jealous wife, Hera.

Taurus in Babylonian mythology#

In Babylonian mythology, Taurus is the Bull of Heaven sent by the goddess Ishtar to kill the hero Gilgamesh. The bull was defeated and torn apart, and his body parts were hurled into the sky, where they became the stars. The head turned into Taurus, and the rear part was believed to make up Ursa Major and Ursa Minor.

F.A.Q.#

How many stars are in the Taurus constellation?#

The Hipparcos satellite scanned and detailed 2219 stars within the Taurus’ borders. 222 of them are brighter than magnitude 6.5 and can potentially be observed with the naked eye under the clear dark sky.

What is the brightest star in the Taurus constellation?#

The most prominent star in Taurus is Aldebaran, which represents the eye of the celestial bull. It is the 14th-brightest star in the night sky and is clearly visible to the naked eye.

Learn how to identify the most famous stars: Polaris, Sirius, Arcturus, and many others. Familiarize yourself with the night sky using this infographic!
See Infographic

When is the Taurus constellation visible?#

It’s best to observe the constellation at the end of the year when it’s high in the night sky from dusk to dawn.

Where is the Taurus constellation right now?#

Constellations are constantly moving across the celestial dome. To learn Taurus’ actual position, use the tools that show the real-time night sky, such as websites (e.g. theskylive.com) or stargazing apps.

Bottom line: Taurus is a zodiac constellation that can be observed from November to March. It holds numerous bright stars and prominent deep-sky objects that can make a good target for amateur astronomers as well as for skilled stargazers.

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