The constellations of Taurus and Auriga lie along the winter
Milky Way, and therefore contain many objects (primarily open
clusters) of interest to the amateur astronomer. Some are large enough to be seen easily with the naked eye, while
others need moderate telescopic apertures to appreciate. There's something for everybody!
The Hyades - This distinctive star cluster marks the head of Taurus the Bull. It is one of the closest
open clusters, and therefore is large, bright, and easily seen. Binoculars or a rich field telescopes show many bright stars, including
the brightest star in Taurus (Aldebaran), which not a true cluster member, but rather a foreground star.
The Hyades open cluster is about 1 billion years old.
The Pleiades - This is another classic open cluster. M45 on the Messier list, the Pleides are easily
visible to the naked eye, yielding a beautiful sight in binoculars. This cluster is dipper-shaped, and about 5-7
stars can be seen with the naked eye. The slightest magnification shows about 100 stars in a compact area. Larger
instruments show the fine nebulosity, often seen in photographs, surrounding the brighter stars.
The Pleiades open cluster is 10 million years old (?) and is smaller and more
compact than the Hyades, and has not yet had time to dissipate as much as the
Hyades. Over the years, the stars in the Pleiades will move farther and farther apart because the gravity
within the cluster isn't strong enough to keep them in their original positions. One day in the far future,
the Pleiades will be as spread out as the Hyades are now.
Contrast these two clusters in Taurus, the Hyades and the Pleiades, with the Great
Nebula in Orion. This nebula is the birthplace of a future open cluster, and
is younger than either of the clusters in Taurus. It is still in its infancy, still surrounded by the gas/dust clouds out of which
its stars will be born.
M-1 - The Crab Nebula is a supernova remnant and shows a flame-shaped nebulosity which is about 5'
by 3' in extent. It is brighter in the center, and has ragged or fuzzy edges, which suggest its name.
This is the
object which started Charles Messier logging non-cometary objects.
NGC 1514 - A large, almost 2' in diameter, planetary nebula with a rather bright central star. This object
"blinking" effect rather well. That is, direct vision shows only the star well, but averted vision causes
the fainter nebulosity to pop into view. Switching between the two causes the star to "blink" on and off.
NGC 1807/1817 These two open clusters fit in the same field of view in a low power eyepiece, offering a
very pleasing deep sky double. 1807 is about 8' in diameter with about 20 stars in a box or X-shape. 1817 is slightly
larger, about 10' in diameter, and composed of about 75 relatively faint stars in a compact grouping reminiscent
of NGC 7789 in Cassiopeia. This is a fine sight.
52 (Phi) Tauri - A very pretty double star which shows a yellow-white primary and a fainter blue companion.
65,67 Tauri - These two stars are seen as a wide double star in the viewfinder, but the telescopic view
holds a surprise. The two wide stars have two fainter stars directly between them! A very nice view.
Mythology: Taurus - The Bull
The delightful daughter of Agenor, Europa, was so beautiful that Zeus immediately fell in love with her. Determined to win Europa's heart, Zeus assumed the form of a milky white bull, whose horns were crowned with flowers, and mingled with the herds of Agenor. Europa was enchanted with the sight of this splendid creature, and climbed upon its back. Taking advantage of his good fortune, Zeus carried the fair maiden away from her homeland, across the seas to the island of Crete. Here, Europa gave birth to Minos, father of the creature Minotaur, who was half bull and half man. Zeus celebrated his love for Europa by having the continent Europe named after her, and created the constellation Taurus, to be seen in the sky for eternity, the symbol of fertility and power.
The Pleiades, photographed on August 14, 1999, with an 80-mm f/5 Celestron spotting scope,
5 minutes on Fuji Color 800 film.
TIP: Count the Stars in the Pleiades: Simply start by locating the brightest stars and sketching them onto
an observation sheet. Then start adding the next brightest, and then the
double stars surrounding each of these, working your way down to the faintest. It takes some time, but it is amazing how much
can be seen when trying to transcribe the eyepiece view to paper. Do
this for all clusters you observe!
Create an observing form for your sketches by drawing a circle on a
piece of white paper. The circle represents the view in your eyepiece.
When finished with your sketch, be sure to include the following basic
information for your records: Name of Object, Date and Time, Telescope and Eyepiece used, and a short
Click HERE to down load the
AAAA Sketch Template in PDF