TAURUS THE BULL – THE CONSTELLATION FOR JANUARY 2021
Taurus the Bull, the star constellation for January 2021, is pretty hard to beat. For me, it has about everything one would want: the remnants of an exploding star, two beautiful star clusters and an attractive giant orange star.
Taurus is easy to find. First, find Orion the Hunter in the southeast sky. (You may want to go to www.skymaps.com to help you locate features in the night sky for each month.)
Locate Orion’s belt stars, create an imaginary straight line connecting the stars, then follow the line up and to the right. You will come to a prominent “V shape” of stars. You have found Taurus’ face. If you follow the sides of the “V” up, you have traced out his horns.
Taurus’ right eye is represented by the beautiful orange-tinted giant star, Aldeberan. The name is Arabic and means “the follower” because it follows the star cluster Pleiades across the sky.
In the Robert Burnham Celestial Handbook, we find that Aldeberan is 40 times the diameter of our Sun and is approximately 125 times the brightness of our Sun. It is 68 Light Years distant.
This means that the light from Aldeberan started out 68 years ago from that star. Even at that distance, Aldeberan is one of the closest stars. Aldeberan is the 18th brightest stars in our sky.
That stars that make the “V” shape, for Taurus’ face, are known as the Hyades Cluster. It is 130 light years distance and has more than 140 stars, most of them dimmer than the stars that make the “V.” Binoculars will help you see many of the faint stars in the group.
Alderberan is not a part of the Hyades Cluster. It is a separate star, located about half-way to the Hyades from us.
The other beautiful star cluster in Taurus is the super attractive bunch of stars called the Pleiades or the Seven Sisters. Find it by following the line from Orion’s belt, through the Hyades and on to the Seven Sisters.
Years ago, a friend of mine called me to explain why the Little Dipper seemed to have moved to a different spot in the sky. When I went outside, I discovered that he had been looking at the Pleiades. It really does look like a compact version of the Little Dipper. If you study it with an ordinary pair of binoculars, prepare to be astounded.
Under ordinary conditions, the Pleiades appears to be 6 or 7 stars. But there is a large number of fainter stars, possibly 200 more in the cluster. Binoculars will reveal many stars of lesser brightness in the group. Some of the dimmer stars do not belong to Pleiades because they are travelling different directions at different speeds.
Both Pleiades and Hyades are best seen and studied with binoculars. Most telescopes will show only part of the groupings.
I now must mention a feature of Taurus that can only be seen with a telescope. It is the Crab Nebula, usually designated by the catalog symbol of M1 (M-one). It is the remnants of an exploded giant star that blew itself to bits in the year 1054. The still-expanding remnants of the star are visible. Inside the Crab is a pulsating star, spinning 30 rotations-per-second and sending out radio pulses as it spins.
The location of the Crab Nebula (nebula is the Latin word for cloud) is easy but seeing it, is not easy. Follow the line of the V-face of Taurus that has Alderberan, up to the tip of the horn. (A star map for January 2021 will help.)
When you get to the tip of that horn, the Crab Nebula will be just a short space to your right. Seeing M1 in its glory will be a thrill, but alas, you need a telescope.
Enjoy all that you see in the sky. We live in an awesome creation.