Friday, May 11, 2007

The Constellation Taurus

Years ago in Memphis, Egypt, archaeologists unearthed the ancient tomb of the Apis-bulls and could hardly believe what they found. Leading to the tomb itself was a broad paved avenue lined by lions carved out of stone. To enter the tomb, one walked through a long and high arched corridor cut into solid rock. It extended for 2,000 feet and was 20 feet wide and 20 feet tall. Many recesses along each side of the corridor had been carved into the rock and each held the ornately entombed remains of Apis-bulls as each one died.

Spring was the time when festivals honoring the Apis-bulls were held. It was also a time when the River Nile gently overflowed its banks and brought life-giving water to the land, a time for planting to begin. At this time in history, roughly around 4000 B.C., the Sun's position along the Zodiac on the first day of spring, or Vernal Equinox, was in that constellation we now recognize as Taurus, the Bull. So for many centuries Taurus was to be the first and most important constellation of the Zodiac. Some have suggested that Taurus may have been the first Zodiac constellation invented.

Gradually the white bull wandered closer to the sea and when near the beach ran into the water and began swimming towards the island of Crete. By this time is was to late for Europa to climb off.

When the two arrived to Crete, Zeus changed himself back into his own form. Realizing that he could not marry Europa himself, Zeus gave her in marriage to Asterius, king of Crete.

When you look for Taurus in the sky, don't expect to find the entire bull. You are supposed to see only his front half. The explanation is that his hind quarters are underwater since he is quite busy carrying Europa across the sea to Crete. Don't really expect to see the shape of the front quarters of a bull, except in your imagination.

The Bull. The Bull was the symbol for power and strength.

> The Bull-god Apis was worshipped in Egypt for thousands of years. To qualify for the honor of being an Apis-bull, a real bull must have certain markings and then be tended by the high priests. For as long as it lived, an Apis-bull supposedly embodied the soul of the Bull-god. When the Apis-bull died, another, with similar markings, had to be found to house the soul of the Bull-god.

> In early Greek mythology, Zeus falls in love with Europa, the daughter of the King of Tyre. But Europa was constantly guarded by her father's servants. One day Zeus changed himself into a beautiful white bull with golden horns. He then mixed with the royal herds that were grazing in a large field by the sea. Europa, who had been walking along the beach, noticed this beautiful animal and could not resist going up to it and feeding it. So friendly and gentle was this splendid bull that she climbed onto its back and grasped its golden horns.

> The Hyades, a V-shaped cluster of stars forming the face of Taurus, has its own mythological story. The Hyades were sisters of Hyas, a great hunter whose death they mourned. The girls were chosen by Zeus to care for his child Dionysus (god of Wine) when his mother died. Zeus placed the sisters into the sky for their service and pity for their grief, and there they continue to weep for their brother.

> The ancient Babylonians and Sumerians also recorded the constellation Taurus in the night sky.

> The Arabs called Taurus Al Thaur, Il Toro by the Italians, Le Taureau by the French, Taura by the Persians, and Shor by the Jews, all meaning the Bull.

> Taurus also contains M1 (NGC 1952), the Crab Nebula. The Crab Nebula is about 5,000 light years away from Earth. It is the remnant of a supernova that occurred in A.D. 1054. The supernova was so bright that it was visible during the day time. The name of the nebula comes from its supposed resemblance to a crab. It is one of the most studied objects in the sky. In 1968 a pulsar was identified near the center of the Crab Nebula. It emits pulses of radio energy with an extremely high degree of regularity. The period is about 33 milliseconds, so short and so regular that it must be due to the rotation of a very dense neutron star.

A history of the Crab Nebula

Hundreds of years before Americans began celebrating Independence Day by peppering the sky with fireworks, a more powerful celestial explosion brightened a summer sky.

It was the spectacular explosion of a supernova, the violent death of a star that may have been more than 10 times more massive than our sun. In July or August of 1054, Chinese astronomers saw and recorded the star's demise. Appearing in the sky above the southern horn of the constellation Taurus was a star the Chinese described as six times brighter than Venus and about as brilliant as the full moon. The remains of this star were later christened the Crab Nebula, a cloudy, glowing mass of gas and dust about 6000 light-years away from Earth.