Look up with the February 2018 sky map to navigate the stars and constellations in the night sky. On this page is both a color sky map and a black and white printable map to bring outside!
Just click here or on the image below to open the printable map—then bring outside!
This Month: The Raging Bull and Its Exploding Star
Some constellations look very much like their namesakes. Orion, for instance, clearly resembles the figure of a noble hunter. Many other constellations look nothing like the person, animal, or object that they represent. See Aries, the Ram, on this month’s map.
Then there are a few “deceptive” constellations that do not look like anything at first glance but suddenly snap into a recognizable shape. So it is with Taurus, the Bull, located in the upper center of our sky map. Once you’ve identified its horns and eyes, you will always see this group of stars as a bull—and you’ll be in good company.
This star pattern was identified as a bull by many cultures of antiquity, dating at least from ancient Babylon, where it was known as The Bull of Heaven. In one of the Greek myths, Taurus was associated with Zeus, who sometimes took the form of a great white bull, the better to kidnap a Phoenician princess. Even the Druids paid homage to Taurus.
The brightest star in Taurus is Aldebaran, which represents one of the bull’s eyes, looking down at us with a baleful red glare. At the tip of one of the bull’s horns lies the appropriately named star Elnath, whose moniker means “the butting one” in Arabic.
February 2018 Sky Map
Click here or on image below to enlarge this map (PDF).
Sky map produced using Chris Marriott’s Skymap Pro
The Hyades star cluster comprises the head of the bull, and a handful of stars beneath the Hyades form the front legs of Taurus. (An aside about star clusters: The famed Pleiades cluster is located within the boundaries of Taurus, just to the right of the Hyades. The Pleiades are known as the Seven Sisters, who, in Greek mythology, were half-sisters to the nearby Hyades.)
These features of Taurus are all easily observed with your unaided eyes. Taurus is also home to an extraordinary object that was once so bright that it was briefly visible in broad daylight but now can not be seen without optical aid.
On July 4, 1054, Chinese astronomers noted a “guest star” not far from one of the horns of Taurus. It was an exploding star, a supernova. The supernova was visible for a few weeks, even during the day, and it was visible at night for nearly 2 years before fading from view. Nearly 700 years passed before it was seen again.
In 1731, English astronomer John Bevis saw a dim glow in his telescope, noting its location in Taurus. Through the next two centuries, other observers saw the same faint smudge. One of them, the Earl of Rosse, made a sketch of the object and decided that it was shaped like a crab. The name stuck, and today we still refer to this object as the Crab Nebula. It was not until 1920s that researchers finally put 2 and 2 together and realized that the faint Crab Nebula is a supernova remnant—all that remains of the amazing “guest star” of 1054.
On the left of this month’s map is a photo of the Crab Nebula made with the Hubble Space Telescope. It shows the still-expanding cloud of gas and dust produced by the exploding star. With good binoculars or a small telescope and a dark location, you can see the Crab Nebula as a faint white dot. It’s difficult to imagine that it was once visible in the daytime sky!
Enjoy astronomy? Check out Bob Berman’s column, “This Week’s Amazing Sky.”