|The name of Taurus should be familiar
to most people, as it one of the constellations of the Zodiac. It
is an ancient constellation, created by the Sumarians around 3000 B.C.,
to mark where the sun would be in the sky at the Spring Equinox.
At that time the bull was a powerful fertility symbol, so was a very appropriate
symbol for the return of Spring. The bull remained an important symbol
for thousands of years. When the Greeks began to attach their own
mythology to the skies Taurus came to represent Zeus carrying Europa to
the island of Crete.
An old chart depicting Taurus the Bull
Only the front half of a bull is represented
in the stars, as seen in this old depiction above. Aldebaran (pronounced
Al-DEB-ar-an) means"the Follower" or the one who is following the Pleiades.
The Pleiades is also commonly known as the Seven Sisters. Aldebaran
marks the eye of the bull and one end of what is known as the "V" of Taurus.
This v-shape which outlines the face of Taurus is a large, close open cluster
of stars also known as the Hyades. In Greek mythology the Hyades
were the daughters of Atlas and Aethra, making them half sisters to the
Pleiades, who were the daughters of Atlas and Pleione.
The Pleiades have a place in many races'
mythology around the world, so much so that it deserves it own article!
We shall not explore it in depth here, but will mention that all the stories
concern seven sisters who are young women in the time of the related story,
one of whom is missing. This is easily correlated with the real sky,
as most people will only see 6 stars with the unaided eye. But the
question remains, why do all the stories mention seven? The
Greeks originally considered the Pleiades to be a constellation of their
own but over time they were incorporated into the shoulder of Taurus.
The Hyades and the Pleiades are both examples
of what astronomers call open clusters (sometimes also called galactic
clusters). All the stars in each cluster formed together out of a
huge cloud of dust and gas. The Pleiades are quite young stars, only
50 million years old. Aldebaran, the Hyades and the Pleiades
make a useful demonstration of distance in space, as they all lie at different
distances away from us but can be seen together in the sky. Bright
Aldebaran is closest to us, only 68 light years away. It is superimposed
on the Hyades cluster, which is about 150 light years away. The Pleiades
is a little further still at approximately 420 light years away.
Saturn is currently travelling through
Taurus (2001-2002), it can be spotted as the bright yellow star out of
place below the Hyades.
This article is ©2000
Stargazers Astronomy Shop