The constellation of Taurus

The constellation of Taurus, as it would appear in the Northern hemisphere (photo credit: astronomy.net)

 Taurus the bull, is one of the most famous constellations in the sky. It is a winter constellation usually visible from November until late March. It contains many wonderful sites that can be observed by the naked eye such as the two open star clusters of the Pleiades and the Hyades; as well as some objects best observed by using binoculars or a telescope such as the double star Theta Tauri and M1, the crab nebula. the constellation is also the radiant of the Taurids meteor shower.

The Hyades star cluster. (photo credit: astronomycafe,net)

 My favourite objects in Taurus to observe are the two main star clusters of the Pleiades and the Hyades. Both of these clusters can be seen by the naked eye although they look even more amazing through a small telescope or binoculars. The Pleiades is an open star cluster that appears as 7 stars by the naked eye although in reality 6 stars are more easily visible than 7. But through a telescope hundreds of stars are visible. I have observed this cluster many times through my telescope and still find it hard to count them all, I would estimate that I have seen around 160 stars through my 5 inch telescope.  The Hyades star cluster makes up the ‘V’ shape in the constellation and appears to also contain the brightest star in Taurus, Aldebaran, although this star is not related to the Hyades. The Hyades is the closest open cluster to our solar system and contains 4 red giant stars which form the main appearance of a ‘V’. One of these 4 red giants, epsilon Tauri, has been found to contain at least one gas giant planet.

Theta Tauri is a double star that can be visible by the naked eye but will be best viewed through binoculars or a small telescope. This star system is part of the Hyades star cluster and both stars are around 3rd magnitude, making them visible to the naked eye, even in light polluted areas.

M1, or the crab nebula, is a Type II supernova remnant nebula. Today it has a magnitude around 8.4 but during the supernova, which occurred in 1054, a magnitude of -4 was reached, meaning the supernova would have been visible in the sky, perhaps even during daylight hours. It was observed by Chinese astronomers and also by native American Indians.  At the heart of the nebula is a pulsar star, the first to be discovered. For more information on the crab nebula, watch this breath-taking video

Taurus is the apparent source of the Taurids meteor shower that occurs during late October/ early November. They are actually 2 meteor showers with separate peak dates, one called the southern Taurids and another called the Northern Taurids. The two showers eventually merge into one meteor shower. They have a low hourly rate of around 5, however they can occasionally bring fireball meteors. In 2005 an unusual peak in activity saw a swarm of fireballs, these are now known as the Halloween fireballs.

Sources

credits

  • copyright for ‘The Crab nebula’ video belongs to ©Michael Busse on Youtube
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