Observing the Bull – Stars, Clusters, and Supernova Remnant
Taurus the Bull is one of the more prominent constellations in the winter sky. Learn the astronomical delights of this starry target.
Taurus the Bull is an easy target to spy in the winter sky. It lies just above and to the right of Orion. Taurus is the animal that Orion the Hunter is aiming his arrow at. The most recognizable part of Taurus is the V-shape.
The V-shape of Taurus is a star cluster known as the Hyades. At only 150 light-years from Earth, the Hyades is the closest open star cluster to the Sun. Its V-shape points to the right, away from Orion. This region denotes the “face” of the Bull. The Hyades (sometimes called Melotte 25) is best seen with the naked eye in order to capture its full extent. Binoculars and a telescope can help you to explore different portions of this large cluster.
Aldebaran, the brightest star in Taurus, appears as the “eye of the bull.” It is not a part of the Hyades star cluster but only looks that way because of our line of sight. In actuality, Aldebaran is 65 light-years away. Aldebaran is the 14th brightest star in the sky, at magnitude 0.8. The “Bull’s Eye” is a red/orange giant, having exhausted its supply of hydrogen it is now growing and burning helium.
The next brightest star in Taurus the Bull is El Nath, a giant star 130 light-years away. El Nath can be found at the tip of the Bull’s uppermost horn. El Nath (sometimes written as Elnath) is the 25th brightest star in the sky at magnitude 1.6. An interesting point about El Nath is that it lies just three degrees from the “anticenter of the galaxy,” meaning that it is almost directly opposite in the sky from the center of the Milky Way.
The other point of Taurus’s horn is Zeta Tauri, a 2.9 magnitude star. Sitting about a degree to the upper right of Zeta is the Crab Nebula, M1. The M1 designation means it was the first item cataloged by Messier in his search for space objects that could be confused for comets. The Crab Nebula is a supernova remnant 6500 light-years away. A supernova in 1054 was reported by people around the world, and the Crab Nebula is the remains of that explosion. At 8th magnitude, the cloudy mass is a popular observing target for amateur astronomers.
The last great observing target in Taurus is the Pleiades star cluster. The Seven Sisters, or M45, appears as only six stars to the naked eye, leading many to believe that at some point in the past another star in this group burned more brightly. The cluster is sometimes mistaken for the Little Dipper due to its shape. To the right and a bit above the Hyades, the Pleiades is best viewed through binoculars. About 100 stars populate this region which lies about 410 light-years away.