History of the Constellations

Stars and Constellations

Taurus

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Contents of this page: | Description | Skylore | Modern Culture | Origin and History | Asterisms | Star Clusters | Nebulae | Submit new info... |

Images (at bottom of page): | Taurus Chart: (Figure 1) | Hyginus, 1482, page E2v: (Figure 2) | Hyginus, 1485, page E1v: (Figure 3) | Hyginus, 1517, page G2r: (Figure 4) | Ptolemy, 1541-const, page Taurus: (Figure 5) | Bayer, 1661, page Y: (Figure 6) | Bayer, 1697, page H1v: (Figure 7) | Bayer, 1697, page H2r: (Figure 8) | Bayer, 1697, page H2v: (Figure 9) | Bayer, 1697, page H3r: (Figure 10) | Bode, 1801, page r: (Figure 11) | Aspin, 1825, page Taurus: (Figure 12) | Images digitized by Hannah Magruder.

Constellation Data

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.

The night sky of winter is dominated by a giant hexagon pattern. Start with Aldebaran in Taurus, pass on to Rigel in Orion, and come down to Sirius in Canis Major. Continue upward to Procyon, in the Little Dog. Trace on to Pollux and Castor, the two stars of Gemini, and 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: Sirius, below, is the brightest star in the night sky. Capella, above, is the 6th brightest. Rigel is the 7th. Procyon the 8th. Betelgeuse the 10th. Aldebaran, Pollux, and Castor are also among the night’s 25 brightest stars.

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.

Modern Culture

Origin and History

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.

Asterisms

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)

Hyades.

Nebulae

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

Submit new info...

Many excellent websites provide a variety of information about constellations for amateur astronomers and telescope users (see sidebar links for a few of these). These constellation pages are not intended to duplicate those efforts, but are devoted to two aims: First, they are intended to assist the beginning skywatcher, including students in history of science survey courses, in becoming familiar with Basic Celestial Phenomena (BCP). Second, these pages are devoted to the history of the constellations and the history of astronomy. They are intended to serve as a repository for collaborative use and reference. Do you have additional historical information about the stars or constellation described on this page? Please submit additional information to kmagruder@ou.edu. Submissions will be attributed. Editors for historical information are Kerry Magruder, JoAnn Palmeri, Peter Barker, and Laura Gibbs.

Oklahoma History of Science exhibits: http://hos.ou.edu/exhibits/. Page revised 4/15/04

Bad links, misplaced images, or questions? Contact Kerry Magruder. Thank you.

"If the stars should appear one night in a thousand years, how would men believe and adore, and preserve for many generations the remembrance of the city of God which had been shown. But every night come out these envoys of beauty, and light the universe with their admonishing smile." R. W. Emerson, Nature

Images

Figure 1 Figure 1 - Return to Text

Tau Chart
Figure 2 Figure 2 - Return to Text

Hyginus, 1482

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Hyginus, 1485

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Hyginus, 1517

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Ptolemy, 1541-const

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Bayer, 1661

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Bayer, 1697

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Bayer, 1697

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Bayer, 1697

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Bayer, 1697

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Bode, 1801

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Aspin, 1825

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Figure 13 Figure 13 - Return to Text

Galileo, 1610. Pleiades.

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Exhibit credit: Kerry Magruder.

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These teaching resources provided by the History of Science Department at the University of Oklahoma.

Unless otherwise indicated, all images courtesy History of Science Collections, University of Oklahoma Libraries. Image Terms of Use.

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