This article was contributed by resident David Baumgartner as part of a local series on astronomy.
The constellation Orion stands proudly in the winter sky, one of the best known groups of stars in the heavens, doing what he did best: fighting the wild animals. But what he liked the most was fighting wild bulls. Orion is the hunter’s name. But Taurus just means “bull” in Greek.
The bull is charging down on Orion from up to the right. Actually what you see is the bull’s head. A triangle of stars represents his face. This triangular cluster is also called the Hyades Cluster. You’ll notice that one star is much brighter than the others, and reddish. So we can think of it as the bull’s angry blood shot eye. Its name is Aldebaran.
The bull has two very long horns, which may be difficult to see at first, because each is marked only by one star, at its tip. The horns together with the triangle of the Hyades make as shape like a capital A lying on its side.
We don’t have many Messier objects in this area, but the ones that are here are very formidable. One has to agree that the most outstanding Messier in Taurus is his very first one cataloged by Messier, M1, the “Crab Nebula.” The Crab is the remains of a cataclysmic stellar explosion that occurred in our own Milky Way galaxy in A.D. 1054. So powerful was the blast that Chinese sky-watchers described it as a “guest star” in the annals of the Sung dynasty. It shined as bright as Venus in the daytime sky, appeared reddish white, and was observed for 23 days.
So if the skies ever clear up again give the raging bull a look through your telescope. It may be hard to find M1, but don’t take any bull from anyone, go out and be the first of your friends to find it, and then give them some bull. I’m sorry, that was pretty bad.
What’s up the rest of this month?
Feb. 17: Moon passes 3° south of Uranus
Feb. 18: Moon is at apogee (251,324 miles from Earth)
Feb. 18: Moon passes 4° south of Mars
Feb. 19: First Quarter Moon
Feb. 27: Full Moon