This article features two constellations from the Zodiac – Taurus the Bull and Gemini, the Twins. Since so many can identify Orion the Hunter with his three-star belt, I have included him to help you get oriented. The stars on the map can be seen high in the sky as you face south in the Winter.
The entire sky is wonderful at this time, displaying many of our brightest stars. If you’re learning the sky with the help of these articles, you’ll still find many of the major constellations I’ve covered: Andromeda, with Perseus not far behind. Cassiopeia, Cepheus, the dippers and Draco, of course, never set for us.
The Planet Path
The twelve constellations of the Zodiac are of special interest to astronomers. The Sun and the planets all follow a path, called the Ecliptic, that runs through these constellations. The Sun moves through about one constellation each month, so the star chart covers about two months of the Sun’s yearly journey. Our Moon also follows this path, but not as closely.
Two Clusters and a Nebula
There are three special objects marked on the star map. Taurus has two open clusters: The Pleiades and the Hyades, both worth seeing with the naked eye or binoculars. They are so big that a telescope is often not the best choice. Orion’s sword has M42, the great Orion Nebula, birthplace of stars. It’s interesting with the naked eye, and can be rivetting in a telescope. Make a drawing!
For those of you following the Greek mythology, two of these constellations are connected to the Hercules stories. As a boy, Hercules learned wrestling from Pollux, twin of Castor. As one of his tasks, set by the jealous Hera, Hercules had to defeat the Cretan Bull. Another of his tasks was to kill the Nemean Lion, commemorated in Leo, a constellation I show you in another article. Hercules himself is not nearby, but is featured in another article.