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A Celestial Rudolph the Red Nose Reindeer?

Not exactly... but I'm going to try to give you the closest thing in the night sky that has something to do with the magic of Rudolph.

The stories of most of the brighter constellations in our night skies involve Greek and Roman mythology so it's really difficult to find one that has much to do with Christmas or reindeers. The only one that even comes remotely close is Monoceros the Unicorn which is a really faint, deep track constellation. It actually resembles a radio/TV antenna rising in the eastern sky these mid December evenings, just behind the majestic well-known winter constellation Orion the Hunter.

There is a constellation on the rise in the evening this time of year that doesn't have a red nose like Rudolph, but he does have a bright red eye. It's Taurus the Bull, prowling around the heavens almost all night this most wonderful time of year. It's a small but distinct constellation that's part of a constellation I call "Orion and his Gang". This neighborhood of the night sky is also known as the "Winter Circle." No matter what you call it, it's by far the most prominent group of bright stars and constellations available through the course of the year!

The best way to find Taurus the Bull is to use the bright star cluster that jumps out at you about halfway from the eastern horizon to the overhead zenith. That's the Pleiades, a cluster of astronomically young stars only 110 million years old. The Pleiades are a little over 400 light years away, with just one light year equaling nearly six trillion miles. Even if you have to put up with some light pollution you'll have no problem seeing the Pleiades. It almost resembles a tiny Big or Little Dipper. It's also known as the "Seven Little Sisters."

Just below the Pleiades look for a small and mostly dim arrow of stars pointing to the right. That little arrow is supposed to outline the snout of Taurus the Bull. The one star that isn't dim on the sideways oriented face of Taurus is Aldebaran, that marks the ruddy eye of the beast. His other eye isn't red and is much fainter. Aldebaran has a reddish hue even to the naked eye that indicates it's a relatively cooler star about 6600 degrees F. The sun's surface temperature is about 10,000 F. While it is a cooler star, Aldebaran is much larger than our home star with a diameter of at least thirty million miles. Our sun isn't even a million miles in diameter. Aldebaran would be a whole lot brighter in our night sky if it weren't so far away, at over 65 light years distant.

If you extend the rungs of the arrow to the left you eventually run into two stars that mark the ends of the Bull's long, sharp horns. The brighter star on the tip of the upper horn is called Elnath, which is also part of a lopsided pentagon of stars that make up the constellation Auriga, a retired chariot driver turned goat farmer.

Every Christmas season I watch the classic TV show Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer, narrated by the late great Burl Ives. I'm now sixty years old, but I clearly remember the first I saw it when I was a kid back in 1964. I still get that warm fuzzy feeling every time I see it. Unfortunately the celestial soap opera involving Taurus the Red Eyed Bull doesn't set off any warm and fuzzy holiday feelings. It's basically a story of deceit!

Zeus, the king of the Greek gods, had an unhealthy obsession with the ladies and used all kinds of schemes to attract them. One of the many he was after was Princess Europa, the daughter of a Phoenician king. Zeus had made conventional overtures to her but she was underwhelmed. I don't even think mistletoe would have helped!

Zeus had to get more creative. He knew that Princess Europa loved to raise prize bulls. She would spend hours and hours in the pasture with the beautiful beasts. So with his godly magical powers Zeus turned himself into Taurus, a gorgeous white bull with golden horns, and wandered into Europa's pasture. The princess was delighted by Taurus' beauty and tameness and spent hours grooming the god in bull's clothing.

One day Europa decided to put a saddle on his back and hopped on. This was Zeus's big opportunity. After a few gentle strolls, the Bull kicked it into gear and shot across the countryside with Europa clinging on. She was frightened but also excited by the adventure. Not even the approaching seashore would slow the bullish Zeus. He charged into the waves with Europa still barely clinging on. He swam all the way to the Greek Island of Crete and finally hit the brakes. Europa was wet, frightened, and sunburned, but exhilarated by the wild ride. It was then that Zeus revealed his true identity to the princess.

That did it! Europa fell head over heels for Zeus but it wasn't exactly a long-term relationship. After a while Europa had enough of Zeus's carousing. Late one night the king of the gods came home to find the locks on the door changed and all of his godly clothes in the front yard. Even though he wasn't a bull anymore, Europa still put Zeus out to pasture!

I sure wish there a was happy holiday ending to this story, but like most of these Greek and Roman constellation stories there aren't many happy endings. There are no "It's a Wonderful Life" or “Miracle of 34th Street" endings here!