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Taurus - the Bull


Mythology - Taurus is one of the oldest zodiac signs and has been seen by the Mesopotamians as the mythical Bull of Heaven who was called up by Anu for his daughter, Ishtar, to destroy the city of Uruk after she made amorous advances toward Gilgamesh. To the Egyptians this was a symbol of the sacred Bull or Apis, a specially chosen animal, ritually slaughtered after 25 years and mummified. There are many resonances in Greek mythology, the most famous being that of the white bull that Zeus turned himself into in order to abduct Europa. Bulls were worshipped during the Minoan civilisation on Crete, and the half-man, half-bull creature called the Minotaur can also be linked to Taurus. The Pleiades are the seven daughters of Pleione, the sea nymph, and the Titan Atlas. Only six stars are normally visible (Alcyone, Electra, Taygeta, Celaeno, Asterope and Maia). These six represent the daughters who were married to immortal gods. The seventh, Merope, was married to Sisyphus, a mortal. Out of shame, the light of her star is dim. One day as the sisters were traveling in Boeotia they were attacked by Orion. In their fright they prayed to Zeus to save them. In pity he turned the sisters into doves that flew up and circled in the sky. Orion chased them for seven years before he was finally killed by Artemis. Zeus placed them in the sky to the west of Orion where he could see them, but never catch them. They are known as Subaru in Japan.
Stars - Both of the loose star clusters in Taurus offer rich pickings in binoculars. The Hyades or "wet ones" is a large triangular shaped cluster which marks the bull's head and is the closest open cluster to us. More compact, and more spectacular are the Pleiades (M45) which are more often termed the seven sisters. Many observers have commented that these newly-hatched (50 million year old) blue stars look a little like a mini plough. Long time exposures reaveal shrouds of reflecting gas still surrounding them.
Deepsky - In 1054 the Chinese recorded a "guest star" that was so bright it could be seen in daytime for weeks. The aftermath of this gigantic stellar explosion is M1, the Crab supernova remnant (after Earl Rosse's observation that it resembled a crab shell). To see this dim oval requires good seeing and a fairly large aperture (6" plus).
Visibility - Taurus is visible throughout the Winter from November until March