How to Find the Taurus Constellation

constellation Taurus
Carolyn Collins Petersen

The constellation Taurus is visible for skygazers beginning in late October and early November. It's one of the few constellations that looks somewhat similar to its name, even though it's a stick figure. It contains a number of fascinating stars and other objects to explore.

Look for Taurus in the sky along the ecliptic, near the constellations Orion and Aries. It looks like a V-shaped pattern of stars with long horns extending out across the sky. 

november sky objects
Check out the constellations Perseus, Taurus, and Auriga to see the Pleiades, Hyades, Algol, and Capella. Carolyn Collins Petersen

The Story of Taurus 

Taurus is one of the oldest star patterns known to skywatchers. The first known records of Taurus date back 15,000 years, when ancient cave painters captured its likeness on the walls of underground rooms at Lascaux, France.

Many cultures saw a bull in this pattern of stars. Ancient Babylonians told tales of the supreme goddess Ishtar sending Taurus—known as the Bull of Heaven—to kill the hero Gilgamesh. In the ensuing battle, the bull is torn apart and his head is sent to the sky. The rest of his body is said to make up other constellations, including the Big Dipper.

Taurus was viewed as a bull in ancient Egypt and Greece, too, and the name persisted into modern times. Indeed, the name "Taurus" comes from the Latin word for "bull." 

The Brightest Stars of Taurus

The brightest star in Taurus is alpha Tauri, also known as Aldebaran. Aldebaran is an orange-colored supergiant. Its name comes from the Arabic "Al-de-baran," meaning "leading star," because it seems to lead the nearby Pleiades star cluster across the sky. Aldebaran is slightly more massive than the Sun and many times larger. It has run out of hydrogen fuel in its core and is expanding as the core begins to convert helium. 

constellation taurus
The official IAU chart for the constellation Taurus.  IAU/Sky Publishing

The two "horn" stars of the bull are called Beta and Zeta Tauri, also known as El Nath and Tianguan respectively. Beta is a bright white star, while Zeta is a binary star. From our point of view on Earth, we can see each of the two stars in Zeta eclipse each other every 133 days. 

The constellation Taurus is also known for the Taurids meteor showers. Two separate events, the Northern and Southern Taurids, occur in late October and early November. The southern shower is the product of objects left behind by Comet Encke, while the Northern Taurids are created when materials from the Comet 2004 TG10 stream through Earth's atmosphere and are vaporized. 

Deep-Sky Objects in Taurus

The Taurus constellation has a number of interesting deep-sky objects. Perhaps the best known is the Pleiades star cluster. This cluster is a collection of several hundred stars, but only the seven brightest can be seen without a telescope or binoculars. The Pleiades stars are hot, young blue stars that move through a cloud of gas and dust. They will continue to travel together for a few hundred million years before dispersing through the galaxy, each on its own path. 

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The Pleiades open star cluster, as seen by Hubble Space Telescope. NASA/ESA/STScI

The Hyades, another star cluster in Taurus, makes up the V-shape of the bull's face. The stars in the Hyades form a spherical grouping, with the brightest ones making the V. They are mostly older stars, moving together through the galaxy in an open cluster. It will likely "break apart" in the distant figure, with each of its stars traveling along a separate path from the others. As the stars age, they will eventually die, which will cause the cluster to evaporate in several hundred million years. 

the star aldebaran and the Hyades star cluster.
The Hyades star cluster with the bright orange-red star Aldebaran (upper left) in the picture. The Hyades is a cluster that lies farther away from Aldebaran, which is in the same line of sight. NASA/ESA/STScI

The other interesting deep-sky object in Taurus is the Crab Nebula, located near the horns of the bull. The Crab is a supernova remnant left over from the explosion of a giant star more than 7,500 years ago. The light from the explosion reached Earth in the year 1055 AD. The star that exploded was at least nine times the mass of the Sun and may have been even more massive.

Crab Nebula
Crab Nebula in several wavelengths of light including visible and x-ray. The bright dot at the center is the Crab Nebula Pulsar, which is the rapidly spinning remains of the star that died in the ancient supernova explosion that created this object. NASA/HST/CXC/ASU/J. Hester et al.

The Crab Nebula is not visible to the naked eye, but it can be seen through a good telescope. The best images have come from such observatories as the Hubble Space Telescope and the Chandra X-ray Observatory.