The Bull Constellation (Taurus - Tau)

A bull among the stars, in ancient times

¿How the constellation Taurus was depicted in antiquity?

In this case we see that Hevelius represented the Taurus in a specular way with respect to its appearance in the celestial sphere: to see it correctly we must therefore turn the photo (it takes a moment with any graphics program).

The name, the story, the myth

Constellation of the zodiac, and therefore crossed by the apparent motion of the Sun, Taurus is linked to several legends.

The figure of the half-Bull appears in a Babylonian document from 2000 BC, but the reference to the constellation is not proven. These stars were however worshiped because they marked the location of the Sun at the spring equinox, about 5000 years ago.

The symbolism of the bull or the cow is linked everywhere to the constellation. In Egypt, starting from the last centuries before Christ, Osiris, represented as a bull god, was identified with the constellation, and so was his sister Isis, represented with cow horns enclosing the lunar disc (from which perhaps the astrological seal of Taurus, stylization of the taurine head).

In Greek myth, there are two stories about the lust of Zeus (Jupiter): that of Io, loved by the god and changed into a white heifer (see also Peacock), and that of Europa, daughter of Agenor, Phoenician king, approached by Zeus under the guise of a white bull. Europa was playing on the shore when a herd of oxen of the king, hijacked by order of Zeus by Hermes, passed in front of her, and the father of the gods mixed among them. She was impressed by this beautiful albino bull: she played with it, she encircled its horns with a garland and, mounted on her back, was led into the sea, against her will, frightened, screaming, but the bull dived and then emerged, suffocating the screams and tiring Europa. They finally reached Crete, where the god seduced her under the plane trees, which, in memory of this divine intercourse, had the privilege of never losing their leaves. From this union was born Minos.

The Persian solar cult of the god-bull Mithras was widespread in the Roman Empire. In the bull was seen the wine god Bacchus: during Bacchic festivals, a bull adorned with flowers was accompanied by dancing maidens (in ceremonies, virgins) representing the Hyades and the Pleiades.

Maybe the Pleiades are also present in what looks like an ancient engraving dating back to 2000-1700 B.C., a time when molten bronze gave birth to a new era. The object in question is known as the Disk of Nebra and there is no certainty that the group of stars is in fact representative of the Pleiades, but there are remarkable similarities with other later representations. The Disk was found through clandestine excavations that did not allow to better fix the position of the discovery but the Disk is, still today, among the most enigmatic objects of archeoastronomy.

A Taurus among the stars, in modern times...

A curiosity: several years ago the Republic of San Marino had issued a series of stamps dedicated to the constellations of the Zodiac. We see here the 2 lire stamp, which says a lot about the period in which these stamps were printed: it was in fact 1970 and I still remember that, since very recently I approached Astronomy, I immediately got the series. Could I not have it, so that I could show it triumphantly to my friends?! Obviously I never threw it away and I must still have it somewhere...

The names of the stars

In the star map you see when you launch the program, I've entered some new names compared to the ones we already knew. Let's go see what they mean:

Elnath (β Tau): means she who bumps (with horns)

Ain (ε Tau): Arabic word meaning eye (of the bull, of course)

Hyadum Prima (γ Tau): from Latin the first of the Hyades

Hyadum Secunda (δ1 Tau): from Latin the second of the Hyades

The Crab Nebula

Let's finish the analysis of the Taurus constellation in this way: in writing this article I had to make some cuts and narrow down the field of information to talk about. You will agree with me that it wouldn't be enough a book to talk in detail about a single constellation: for example about deep sky objects (I prefer the diction in English deep sky objects) meaning nebulae and galaxies, you could talk for hours. I couldn't close without showing a wonderful photo by the Hubble Space Telescope of the Crab Nebula, the remains of a supernova explosion occurred in 1054: this object is also the first on the list of nebulae and galaxies catalogued by astronomer Charles Messier and published in 1774. This nebula is universally identified as M1.

A very distant monster

The most attentive of you will have noticed a star on the left side of the constellation, 119 Tau, which has an enormous distance from all the other heavenly sisters: the beauty of 1919 light-years, which takes it very far, over there, behind the sheet. But this star has another noteworthy feature, despite being an ordinary star of any constellation... It's another monster of a star, with a radius 580 times that of the Sun, just a little smaller than Betelgeuse... This fact deserves a trip to its vicinity: let's turn on Celestia's engines and head for this spectral class M2 star and stop at a distance of 10 UA, basically the distance from which the Sun (as seen by Saturn) is a very bright, but still a tiny dot. As you can see from the photo, 119 Tau from that distance is threateningly large, with an apparent diameter of 24° (practically the angular distance in our sky between it and the Pleiades) and a strong reddish light. There is nothing to say: disturbing! 

And standing around here, from such a great distance, what will our Sun look like, what brightness will it have? The Astronomers Centodiciannoviani I contacted by email, replied that our star has a very poor brightness, of magnitude equal to just 13.5 and stressed the fact that if there was no internet they would not even know of our existence. Just think that now in their Wikipedia they also talk about the most beautiful site in the universe!

All right... sorry... I wanted to add a funny, imaginative and if you like, topical note!

Where and when to watch the bull?

The Taurus is a typically winter constellation: to observe it quietly without having to invent annoying nocturnal alarm clocks given the commitments of the following day, let's suppose we want to observe it in the evening, around 9 p.m. We have the period from October, when we will see it low on the eastern horizon, just risen, until around April of the following year, when we will see it again low on the horizon, towards the West, which is about to set. In the Christmas period, always at that time, we will be able to admire it, high, towards South, at its culmination. 

Audio Video The Bull Constellation (Taurus - Tau)
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