Glossary term: Taurus

Description: Taurus, "the bull", is a constellation in the Zodiac so it's close to the ecliptic – the intersection of the celestial sphere with the plane defined by the orbit of the Earth around the Sun. Hence, from our point of view here on Earth, we can regularly find the planets, and also the Sun, in this constellation – in the case of the Sun from May 14 to June 21. (Of course if the Sun is there, we cannot see the constellation's stars.) Taurus is one of the 88 modern constellations defined by the International Astronomical Union, and also one of the 48 classical constellations named by 2nd century astronomer Claudius Ptolemy. In the northern hemisphere, it's prominently visible in the night sky in winter. Its brightest star is the reddish Aldebaran.

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Term and definition status: This term and its definition have been approved by a research astronomer and a teacher

The OAE Multilingual Glossary is a project of the IAU Office of Astronomy for Education (OAE) in collaboration with the IAU Office of Astronomy Outreach (OAO). The terms and definitions were chosen, written and reviewed by a collective effort from the OAE, the OAE Centers and Nodes, the OAE National Astronomy Education Coordinators (NAECs) and other volunteers. You can find a full list of credits here. All glossary terms and their definitions are released under a Creative Commons CC BY-4.0 license and should be credited to "IAU OAE".

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The bow tie shaped Orion over dry, rocky outcrops. Sirius appears as a bright star between two pillars of rock

Winter Constellations

Caption: Second place in the 2022 IAU OAE Astrophotography Contest, category Time lapses of celestial patterns.   Sirius, the brightest star in the night sky, is shown rising, setting and passing by. Sometimes constellations and asterisms are also visible, including Orion, Taurus and the Pleiades. In the first scene, the aforementioned constellations are covered by a semi-transparent golden veil. The next scenes show it rising in a dark blue night sky. In one of the scenes, a planet brightly decorates the faint constellation Pisces. The videos were taken above various landscapes and places of cultural heritage on Earth. Some of them simply show monuments in the desert, while others show palm trees with waving leaves.
Credit: Amirreza Kamkar/IAU OAE

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In front of the curve of the Milky Way we find the hourglass-shaped Orion and the bright Pleiades star cluster.

Warm Winter Night Over Spiš Region

Caption: Winner in the 2022 IAU OAE Astrophotography Contest, category Still images of celestial patterns.   This image, taken in Slovakia in January 2022, shows regions of the Milky Way and a rich variety of constellations. The summer constellations of the northern hemisphere are very low in the sky towards the bottom-right. The bright stars of Cygnus and Lyra shine through the artificial lights at the horizon. The huge array of northern winter and autumn constellations with many bright stars are associated with diverse cultural stories. For the Lakota people in North America the belt of the Orion constellation represents the spine of a bison (“Tayamnicankh”). Orion, the Hunter of Greek mythology, is sometimes described chasing the Seven Sisters, the Pleiades. The Arabs transformed this view by considering the follower of the Pleiades only one star instead of a constellation. Aldebaran, the star in the right eye of Taurus, the Bull, comes from this interpretation, because the name Aldebaran derives from al-dabaran, The Follower. At the bottom-right, on the horizon, we can see the milky lightcone of the Zodiacal light stretching from the constellation Pisces through Aries, almost reaching the Pleiades, indicating the path of the planets and the Moon in this area. The Pleiades and the Hyades together form a gate on this path, where the heavenly bodies occasionally pass before entering the Milky Way. The planets were considered sheep in ancient Babylon and the modern constellation Orion was considered the “True Shepherd” of the Sky, with his shepherd’s tool reaching the ecliptic. In Roman tradition, the bright white star above the Pleiades and the Milky Way is called Capella, the Goat, which can be traced back to an Egyptian constellation in this area. Above the treetop in the middle-right part of the image, we see the autumn square, the Andromeda Galaxy and the W-shaped pattern of Cassiopeia. To the left of this group, in the central part of the visible Milky Way, is the constellation Perseus, with Cepheus in the dark area above Cassiopeia completing the celestial family. The Andromeda saga is a Greek story from the area that is now called Israel, and is rooted in Syrian traditions. The location of Andromeda was considered by the ancient Babylonians as the location of the goddess of sexual love, and by the Syrians as the location of the goddess of fertility. According to the saga, Andromeda was chained to a rock at the coast of Jaffa (Tel Aviv) in order to protect her land from a sea monster. The name of the hero who rescued her is Perseus, probably meaning “from Persia” (today’s Iran). Noticeable in the valley are the lights from towns. The yellow light above the horizon indicates larger cities there, which are given away by their light pollution.
Credit: Robert Barsa/IAU OAE

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Orion appears as an hourglass shape of stars in the bottom of the image. Above Taurus is v-shaped with a small star cluster

Romanian Orion

Caption: Winner in the 2022 IAU OAE Astrophotography Contest, category Still images of celestial patterns.   Taken in Romania in August 2012, this image shows two of the most recognisable constellations in the sky, Orion and Taurus. Orion, the Hunter, is found near the horizon. The most prominent star visible in this image is Betelgeuse, while the asterism of Orion’s belt is formed by three aligned bright stars. Just above Orion we can find Taurus, one of the constellations of the Zodiac. As the Zodiac is inherited from Babylon, The Bull of Heaven represents a mighty but dangerous creature that was defeated by King Gilgamesh and his friend Enkidu. They cut the Bull in half and sacrificed the animal to the gods in order to protect their people. Taurus is also home to the star cluster Pleiades, also known as the Seven Sisters. Two planets are visible: Venus, the bright spot near the fence, and Jupiter, the bright spot at the top, next to the Bull’s face. Different cultures have included the stars of these constellations in their own mythology. The Romanians, for instance, after Christianisation identified four other constellations using some of the stars of Orion and others surrounding it. One such constellation is called Trisfetitele (the Three Saints), which is associated with the three stars comprising Orion's Belt, representing the Three Hierarchs Basil, Gregory and John. This same asterism is also called Three Wise Men, Kings from the East or just Three Kings — all of these names being rooted in the Christian religion. The agricultural calendar, in contrast, led farmers to define two other constellations, the Little Plough and the Sickle. Both are seen in the southern half of the Orion rectangle; the Little Plough is drawn by connecting the southern quadrilateral with Orion’s left shoulder, and the Sickle is formed by connecting Orion’s left foot (Rigel) with the belt stars, forming an arch and completing the form of a hoe. In the cultural calendar, these constellations were used to announce the harvest of wheat/grain. Finally, the fourth Romanian constellation is the Great Auger, where Orion’s belt represents the handle of the auger, and Betelgeuse is the tip, facing towards Pollux in Gemini. This constellation is associated with treasure, as Romanian peasants believe that the Auger points to the treasure when they approach the end of the world. Most of the official star names in Orion are Arabic; Mintaka (meaning “belt”) is at the waist; Alnitak (meaning “girdle”) and Alnilam (meaning “string”) are at the belt; and Rigel (meaning foot) is at the left foot. The star on the left shoulder is named Bellatrix, the Latin term for a female warrior. The star at the right leg is called Saiph, for the sword or sabre of the Arabic Orion.
Credit: Alex Conu/IAU OAE

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The bright, diffuse Milky Way, interrupted by mottled dark patches, arches over a wintry landscape.

Winter Milky Way

Caption: Winner in the 2022 IAU OAE Astrophotography Contest, category Still images of celestial patterns.   Taken near Lake Misurina in the Veneto region of Italy in February 2019, this image shows a clear and starry sky over a winter landscape. We can see part of the Milky Way arc. From the left side, towards the south-east, we see Sirius, "The Burner" in Greek, the brightest star in the night sky. It is part of the constellation Canis Major, The Great Dog, one of the dogs of Orion, the great hunter, in Greek mythology. Orion’s other dog, Canis Minor, the Small Dog, is represented by the bright star Procyon and its fainter neighbours. The Greek star name means “The One [rising] before The Dog” and the star is seen at the top left side of the image just above the arc of the Galaxy. Orion lies to the right of Canis Major. We can spot its characteristic “belt”, an asterism composed of three bright stars aligned in a straight line.  Above the treetops to the right of Orion, the open star clusters of the Hyades and the Pleiades in the constellation Taurus, the Bull, are visible. According to ancient lore, these two clusters form a Celestial Gate directly next to the intersection of the great circles of the ecliptic and the Milky Way. In Greco-Roman mythology, Taurus is associated with the god Zeus who is said to have used a bull to seduce the Phoenician princess Europa. Above the constellation Taurus, we can see a bright star just above the arc of the Galaxy. This is Capella, the brightest star of the constellation Auriga, The Charioteer. This is one of the 88 modern constellations and is associated with the Greek hero Erichthonius of Athens. Hindu astronomy considers Capella as the heart of Brahma, one of the three major gods. The indigenous people of Bororo in Brazil have a constellation representing a cayman, comprising some of the stars of Auriga and some stars from neighbouring constellations. To the right of Taurus, we find the modern constellation Perseus with the bright double star cluster h+chi Perseii, which represents the metal of Perseus’s sabre in Greek mythology. Perseus is the hero who was sent out to prove himself, and happened to rescue Andromeda from the sea monster Cetus as the Roman poet Ovid wrote. We can also see the constellation Cassiopeia, associated with the queen and mother of Andromeda in Greek mythology. It is composed of five bright stars in the shape of a W, which was considered the asterism of The Key by the Greeks according to the poet Aratus. The recognisable shape is also associated with other mythologies: for instance, it represents the princess Sharmishtha in Hindu astronomy, a bat in Thailand, and a camel in native Arabic astronomy. In the gap between the trees, the Andromeda Galaxy is visible.
Credit: Giorgia Hofer/IAU OAE

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Orion appears as an hourglass with its belt slightly tilted relative to the horizon. The bright star Sirius is bottom-left

Winter Constellations

Caption: Winner in the 2022 IAU OAE Astrophotography Contest, category Still images of celestial patterns. Taken from the Kottamia Astronomical Observatory, Cairo, Egypt, in December 2021, this image shows a few prominent winter constellations of the northern sky above the largest telescope in North Africa. The photograph depicts the constellation of Orion (prominently in the middle of the image) with its belt of stars pointing up to Aldebaran in Taurus and down to Sirius in Canis Major. Aldebaran is a reddish star that we see in front of the open star cluster of the Hyades (at the upper right edge of the image), which is the face of Taurus, the bull. The bright white star is Sirius, the brightest star in the night sky. Its Greek name (Seirios) means “the burner” and can be understood metaphorically as “the brightest”. This constellation has been represented in a variety of different cultures from all over the world. The ancient Egyptian religion also associates the constellation of Orion with a male figure, namely the god Osiris. It is told that Osiris was murdered by his envious brother Seth, who then dismembered the body and scattered the pieces all over the land. Fortunately, Osiris’s sister-wife Aset (Greek: Isis) is the most powerful sorceress and protective mother goddess. She collected the pieces, put them back together and breathed life back into the god. Aset is seen in the star pattern around the bright star Sirius at the bottom of the photograph. The Egyptian name for Sirius (and adjacent areas) is Sopdet (Greek: Sothis). The heliacal rise of Sirius in summer was a harbinger of the Egyptian new year.  Going north, we can spot a bluish star. This is Alhena, one of the stars in the feet of the zodiacal constellation Gemini, the twins, whose bright head stars would be beyond the upper left edge of the photograph. In the top centre we can see the star Elnath, in the constellation of Auriga, the charioteer. It is associated with Erichthonius, a hero of Greek mythology believed to be the inventor of the four-horse chariot. This same star is also considered the tip of the upper horn of Taurus, the bull. In Greek mythology Taurus is associated with the god Zeus who had sent him to rob a princess. It is commonly known that this Greek story was invented in order to include the Babylonian constellation in Greek mythology. In the Mesopotamian Gilgamesh saga, which is one of the oldest pieces of literature that we know (being traced back to the 3rd millennium), Taurus is the bull of heaven, sent by a jealous goddess and defeated by the king of Uruk to save his people. In the sky it harbours several interesting astronomical objects.
Credit: Mohamed Aboushelib/IAU OAE

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