Secrets of Orion

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Orion Constellation

Step out anytime after 7:30 P.M. Look around for anything bright. The first thing you’ll notice is Orion and its famous belt, those three-stars-in-a-row. They float in a very special space. Orion’s belt sits directly over Earth’s equator.

Only stars in that location are seen by everyone, everywhere. A star over one of the poles—the north star, say—is forever hidden from people of the opposite hemisphere, blocked by Earth itself. From the US, Canada, and Europe, about a fourth of the sky never rises. Major luminaries forever concealed from our view include our companion galaxies (the Magellanic clouds) and the Southern Cross. But Orion the Hunter, which straddles the equator like a diplomat, is visible around the world.

hunter.jpgA few thousand years ago, middle-eastern sky-watchers visualized those three stars as the waistline of a sheep. But in a wonderful, woolen, rags-to-riches story, Orion got promoted to human. That wasn’t enough to bring him good luck, and he was killed by a scorpion sting.

Many of the Hunter’s stars share the same awesome thousand light-year distance, forming a lavish association of blue suns of arc-welder intensity. Check them out through binoculars, which brings out their diamond blue-ness. Merely 1/1000th the age of our Sun, these infants were born together from an immense cloud of gas.

Then point those binoculars at Orion’s belt. The cheapest “glasses” instantly reveal that the belt is immersed in a multitude of little stars like a swarm of fireflies. In rural areas, this faint cluster stands out with just the naked eye, after your eyes get dark-adapted. If you have kids—whose vision is usually much better than ours—ask them: Do you see lots of little stars right there in Orion’s belt? Your local sky, and your eyes, pass the purity test if you can see this faint unnamed star cluster.

Just above the belt stands pumpkin-colored Betelgeuse (say BET‘l-juice) and just below it shines blue-white Rigel (RYE-jill). Both are super-large. Then let the belt point down and leftward to the brightest star in all the heavens. This is the Dog Star— Sirius.

What did it take, five minutes? And—without star charts—you’ve easily taken in some of the most famous objects in all the heavens.

~ By  Bob Berman

About This Blog

Welcome to “This Week’s Amazing Sky,” the Almanac’s blog on stargazing and astronomy. Wondering which bright objects you’re seeing in the night sky? Want to learn about a breathtaking sight coming up? Bob Berman, longtime and famous astronomer for The Old Farmer’s Almanac, will help bring alive the wonders of our universe. From the beautiful stars and planets to magical auroras and eclipses, we’ll cover everything under the Sun (and Moon)!

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Orion...

The Old Farmers Almanac...
American forever...
Forever n'ever. Orion...
I nightly look

Your column is great. I like

Your column is great. I like this "what can you see in five minutes" -- since I usually can't see anything that your typical astronomer tells me about. Nor can I follow those busy star maps. And thanks for telling me how to pronounce those cool star names like Betelgeuse.

Thanks

Thanks, Chris – I appreciate your kind words.

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