Monday, June 20, 2011

Taurus, the Bull: April 20 - May 20

You probably know you have a zodiac sign relating to your birthday, but did you ever look at the stars at night and wonder how to find your own zodiac constellation? Have you ever gazed skyward and questioned how the scattering of star groups came to be named?
Image courtesy of NASA

Ancient Babylonians divided the sky into the twelve constellations of the zodiac. They show where the Sun, Moon, and planets appear to travel when seen from Earth. The early Babylonians and Greeks believed the planets, Sun, and Moon were gods walking across the sky. They noticed the gods always passed through certain groups of stars and imagined these parts of the sky must be very important. These star groups became known as the zodiac constellations.

The early Greeks spread these symbols to many other cultures. One of the earliest constellation lists was compiled in about 120 BC by the Greek astronomer Hipparchus. Like a celestial map, the zodiac constellations are still used to describe the locations of the Sun, Moon, and planets.

Taurus, the Bull, represents the second sign of the zodiac. It is the constellation of people born between April 20 and May 20. Horoscope dates mark the time the Sun was in the constellation in ancient eras. This means that long ago on your birthday, at 12 noon, your constellation was once straight overhead—right behind the Sun. If you want to find the constellation that represents your sign, look in the early evening, six months later. For example, if you were born in May under the sign of Taurus, look for the Bull in October, in the early evening.

Bulls represent strength and fertility in more than one ancient story. One Greek myth involving cattle tells the story of Zeus and the beautiful Princess Io, daughter of the River God Inachus. Zeus fell in love with the princess and let her know about his feelings by sending messages through her dreams.

Unfortunately, Zeus’s love for the princess was a problem for he was married to Hera¬—the easily angered and jealous queen of the Olympians and goddess of marriage and birth. Hera was a smart goddess and tried to keep track of what Zeus was doing at all times. One day she noticed a dark cloud enveloping the Earth and suspected her husband was being deceitful. She made the cloud evaporate and scanned the Earth for her husband.

About to be caught with Io, Zeus turned the princess into a beautiful white heifer—just seconds before his wife came into sight. Hera was not fooled and made it very difficult for the heifer to escape by ordering Argus, a giant with one hundred eyes, to guard Io. The tale of the princess’s rescue involves Hermes, the messenger god and god of luck.

Look for Taurus between Aries and Gemini. One of the most distinctive constellations, it is easily recognized as a bright V marked by Aldebaran, the Bull’s red eye. You can find more stories like this in Dot to Dot in the Sky, Stories of the Zodiac, published by Whitecap Books.

Sky Facts

• The star cluster marking the head of Taurus the Bull is called the Hyades. One of the closest open clusters to Earth, it is large, bright, and easily seen. Binoculars show many bright stars, including Aldebaran.

• Remnants of a supernova called the Crab Nebula (M1) can be found in Taurus.

No comments: