The Moon stares down into the eye of Taurus this evening — bright orange Aldebaran. The star is a couple of degrees below the Moon as night falls — about the width of your finger held at arm’s length.
Thousands of years ago, the Sun stood against the stars of Taurus around the time of the spring equinox. Aldebaran made its first appearance in the dawn sky shortly after the equinox. That made it an important sky marker for many cultures. It helped some know when to plant crops, while for others it became associated with the Sun god or gods of life and fertility.
One of those cultures may have been in ancient Macedonia.
Scientists had already discovered two sites on a mountaintop that were used for watching the motions of the Sun about 4,000 years ago. But they recently found a third observing platform that may have been tied to Aldebaran.
The platform offered an alignment to the sunrise point on the equinoxes. But researchers also found four notches that were cut into a hill in front of the platform. Viewed from the center of the platform, the rising Aldebaran would have appeared in those notches at the time the site was in use. One notch matched the star’s position around 1900 BC, with the others matching its position at roughly hundred-year intervals.
The combination suggested that Aldebaran played a role in the tribe’s agricultural calendar and religious life, as trained skywatchers kept an eye on the bull’s own baleful eye.
Script by Damond Benningfield, Copyright 2014