How to Identify the Constellation of Taurus in the Night Sky

Taurus (the bull) is one of the 12 constellations of the zodiac. Taurus is a prominent constellation which can be seen in the Northern skies (latitudes above the equator). Taurus begins to appear in the East horizon during the months of September and October, and it is best seen throughout the months of December and January when it is high above in the sky. By March and April, Taurus appears in the West horizon, hiding away from sight. The following will explain how to identify the constellation of Taurus in the night sky.

Angular measures are units of measure that astronomers use to measure the size and distances of objects in the sky. The units of angular measure are in degrees and radians. The circumference of the earth measures 360°. The angular separation from the east horizon to the west horizon is 180°, and the angular distance from any point in the horizon to the zenith (the point directly overhead) is 90°. With this knowledge and using your hands, you can find your way in the night sky.

To measure the separation of stars in the sky, you´ll need smaller angles which you can obtain by only using your hands and fingers in the following way: close your fist and hold it at arm´s length with the back of your hand facing towards you; the thickness of your fist is equal to 10° in the sky. Now, stretch your thumb and pinky fingers out; the distance from the tip of your thumb finger to the tip of your pinky finger is 25°. Stretch the index finger and pinky finger out; the distance from the tip of your index to the tip of your pinky finger is equal to 15°. Hold your three middle fingers together with your hand outstretched; the span of your three fingers is equal to 5°. Your thumb finger covers one degree of an angle in the sky.

If you go out on a clear night between the months of December and January, one of the first stars that you´ll see in the sky is the brightest star Sirius in the constellation of Canis Major. Stretch out your hand with your fist closed and count two fists (20°) to the north of Sirius until you get to three stars in a row ( the belt of Orion). This asterism (group of stars) forms part of the constellation of Orion (the hunter) which is one of the most noticeable constellations during the winter sky. Following the line of the belt, count two fists (20°) until you get to Aldebaran which is the brightest star in the constellation of Taurus.

Now that you have identified the constellation of Taurus, learn some of its features. Aldebaran which is red giant star represents the bull´s eye. A  V shaped asterism known as the Hyades forms part of the face of the bull. This asterism spans for about 5° in the sky. Beta Tauri and Zeta Tauri are two star systems which represent the tips of the bull´s horns. The horns extend for approximately 15° away from the Hyades. Undoubtedly, identifying Taurus tonight will give you the ability to identify other constellations in the night sky.