Tau - Taurus the Bull

Legend for constellation star maps, IAU and Sky & Telescope magazine (Roger Sinnott & Rick Fienberg), cc-by

Intro and Visual description

Taurus the Bull is easily spotted. Its head is the Hyades, a V-shaped cluster of stars. His horns point outward from the V. Aldebaran is the red eye of the Bull as he charges down upon us.

Taurus is included in the ancient star catalogs of Eudoxos of Knidos, Aratos of Soli, and Ptolemy.
Biblical references: The Pleiades are mentioned in Job 9:7-9 and Job 38:31-33, and Amos 5:8. Other constellations alluded to in the Bible are Ursa Major and Orion.

Skylore and Literature

In the fourth millenium before Christ, the ancient Akkadians recognized a band of constellations they called the Furrow of Heaven, ploughed by the Bull of Heaven, as mentioned in the Epic of Gilgamesh. At that time Taurus the Bull contained the Sun on the first day of spring.
Roman story of Jupiter turning himself into a bull to carry off Europa, daughter of King of Crete.

The "Winter Hexagon" is a giant six-cornered pattern that dominates the night skies of winter. Start with Aldebaran in Taurus, pass down to Rigel in Orion, and continue on down to Sirius in Canis Major. Then trace upward to Procyon, in the Little Dog. Continue on to Pollux and Castor, the two stars of Gemini, and on past them to the top of the hexagon, bright yellow Capella, lying almost straight overhead, in the constellation Auriga the Charioteer. Auriga looks more like a pentagon than a Chariot, perched on top of the horns of Taurus.

The Winter Hexagon contains an unrivalled collection of stars:

  1. Sirius, below, is the brightest star in the night sky.
  2. Capella, above, is the 6th brightest.
  3. Rigel is the 7th.
  4. Procyon the 8th.
  5. Betelgeuse the 10th.
  6. Aldebaran, Pollux, and Castor are also among the night’s 25 brightest stars.



Winter Hexagon
Hyades (V)

Star Clusters

M45, Pleiades or Seven Sisters (Galactic cluster), mag. 1.6. Like bright jewels on the back of Taurus sit the Pleiades, a tiny cluster of brilliant bluish stars. Most people can see 6 stars, but in antiquity 7 were visible. With binoculars or a telescope you can see many more. Tennyson wrote:
Many a night I saw the Pleiades | rising thro’ the mellow shade, | Glitter like a swarm of fire-flies | tangled in a silver braid.

Uncountable stars of the Pleiades are depicted in Galileo’s first published account of his telescopic observations, the Starry Messenger (1610). See (Figure 13) and the Galileo exhibit for details.

In Middle Earth, the Pleiades were known as Remmirath (the Netted Stars). (Rachel Magruder)




M1, Crab Nebula (Supernova remnant), mag. 8.4. In the year 1054 a massive star near the tip of the horn of Taurus exploded.



Constellation Info

Abbr: Tau

Genitive: Tauri

Size: 17 of 88

RA: 5 hours

Evening culmination (9 pm): January

Midnight Culmination: November, December

Decl: 15 degrees

Entirely visible from: N of -59° latitude

Partially visible from: S of -59° latitude

Not visible at all from: nowhere


Bordering constellations:

Constellation - Names

Arabic: الثور

Babylonian: GU4.AN; MÚL.MÚL

Babylonian translation: Stars; Bull of Heaven

Chinese: 金牛座

English: Bull

French: Taureau

German: Stier

Greek: Ταύρος

Hebrew: שור

Italian: Toro

Latin: Taurus

Russian: Телец

Spanish: Tauro, Toro

Related Asterisms