This is one of the great constellations from Greek mythology. It can be the great white bull that Zeus disguised himself as to carry off Europa, or the bull put up in the sky by Zeus for Orion to fight after he died. The face of the bull is easily seen as the big ‘V’ in the sky, with the point of the ‘V’ as its nose, the open end of the ‘V’ as its eyes. The tips of the horns are a long way off, the stars (beta) β and (zeta) ζ. When you view this part of the sky, it will seem as if Taurus was designed for binoculars.
Let’s start with the big ‘V’ itself. This easily identified arrangement of stars has the name Hyades. With the exception of the red giant star, all these are part of an open cluster only 150 light years away, and are the second nearest open cluster to us. This makes them a very important tool to astronomers for measuring the scale of the Universe. The blazing red giant star, the bull’s eye, is Aldebaran, or (alpha) α-Tauri, the 14th brightest star in the sky. It is not really a part of the cluster, being only 65 light years away.
The Hyades contains a small feast of double stars, very suitable for binoculars.
On the southern (top) limb of the V there are two naked-eye (and therefore binocular) double stars. The first, (theta) θ-Tauri is nearest the nose and contains an orange (mag 3.9) and a white (mag. 3.4) star, both giants. They are 5' apart.
Then just 1o south of (above) Aldebaran is another naked-eye/binocular double star, (sigma) σ1 and σ2-Tauri. Both are white stars, mags. 4.7 and 5.1, 7' apart.
On the opposite side of the V, 5o below (north) of Aldebaran, is a faint 4th mag. star, (kappa) κ-Tauri that forms a binocular double with 67 Tau. (both white stars) 6' apart. κ is itself a very close binary.
Only 0.5o north of κ is another optical double, comprising (upsilon) υ and 72 Tau, a wide 17’ apart with a mag. 5.5 blue and a mag. 4 yellow-white. Then, also on the V but directly opposite θ you’ll find a trio arranged like a flat isosceles triangle about ¾o long. It’s (delta) δ1 (an orange), δ2 (white-yellow) and δ3 (white) Tau. Scan in and around the V carefully and you will observe a number of other star groupings which are not formally listed as double but are a pleasure to see.
The most exciting object in Taurus, however, is M45, the Pleiades.
The naked eye can see from 6 to 9 stars in the group, depending on your eyesight and the darkness of the sky. The Greeks named the seven main stars after the nymph daughters of Atlas and Pleione. The two stars at the tip of the handle represent the proud parents themselves. Though your naked eye may see up to 9 stars and binoculars will reveal many more, Pleiades is actually a cluster of about 200 stars and are all about 380 light years away. They are mostly ‘new born’ giant blue-white stars, less than 50 million years old. That is, they are very young, very large, and very, very hot. Like the Hyades, the Pleiades are best viewed through binoculars.
M45 - The Pleiades
Some people claim they can see the Crab Nebula (M1) in binoculars. Theoretically this is possible, though it would be maddeningly faint. Find the bull’s horn tip ζ Tauri about 15o from Aldebaran. M1 is about 1o NW of ζ. Expect to see, if anything, the faintest of nebulosity (averted vision would be useful here), the remnant of a star that exploded in 1054 AD, and is 6,500 light years away.
For a detailed description of more binocular objects in the southern sky, see my book “Heavens Above – A Binocular Guide to the Southern Skies”. A link is provided at the bottom of this website’s Home page.