The Bull

StarDate: January 17, 2009

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Taurus, the bull, charges high across the south on winter nights. He's one of the best-known constellations in the sky -- and one of the oldest. And thanks to three prominent "landmarks," he's also one of the easiest to find.

One of those landmarks is the bright orange star Aldebaran, which marks the bull's eye. It's high in the east at nightfall. More about Aldebaran tomorrow.

Aldebaran is a part of Taurus's second landmark -- its V-shaped face. Aldebaran is at the top left point of the V. The other stars of the V form the Hyades cluster -- the nearest cluster to Earth, at a distance of around 150 light-years. Aldebaran is less than half as far, so it's not a member of the cluster.

The Hyades is a stellar family. All of its stars were born from the same cloud of gas and dust. And today, they move through space as a group, bound by their gravity.

Taurus's third landmark is also a cluster -- the Pleiades. It forms the bull's shoulder, a little above his face during the evening hours. This cluster is bigger than the Hyades, but it's also about three times farther. It forms a tiny dipper shape.

Taurus was first drawn at least 5,000 years ago. But cave drawings in France show a bull that seems to match the celestial bull -- with Aldebaran, the Hyades, and the Pleiades all in the right spots. If it really is Taurus, then people were seeing a bull in these stellar landmarks more than 16,000 years ago.

Script by Damond Benningfield, Copyright 2008

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