There is no brighter constellation in the night sky than Orion, the Hunter. And there is no better time to view Orion than an early evening in February, so bundle up! See our February Sky Map (Star Chart)!
Just click here or on the image below to open the printable map—then bring outside!
February Sky: All Hail the Mighty Hunter!
There is no brighter constellation in the night sky than Orion, the Hunter. And there is no better time to view Orion than an early evening in February, so bundle up!
When you look to the south in February, your view is dominated by Orion, standing tall and proud. Let’s examine the Hunter in detail. This month’s Sky Map includes a close-up view of Orion on the right-hand side of the map.
Betelgeuse and Rigel
The main figure of Orion consists of seven bright stars. The brightest of these are Betelgeuse on his right shoulder and Rigel on his left knee. Both are among the sky’s 10 brightest stars, and they have distinctly different colors. At a glance, it is easy to see that Betelgeuse is a yellowish orange star while Rigel is a dazzling blue-white. In general, the colors of stars are very subtle, but the colors of these two bright stars are easy to see.
Betelgeuse and Rigel are both classified as “supergiant” stars, having about 8 and 21 times the mass, respectively, of our Sun. Where Betelgeuse really excels, however, is in its sheer size—as much as 1,000 times larger than our Sun!
On Orion’s left shoulder lies the very blue star Bellatrix, meaning “female warrior.” It’s no coincidence that the Bellatrix Lestrange character in the Harry Potter books is extremely warlike (and not in a good way!). Bellatrix (the star) is even bluer than Rigel, but because Bellatrix is dimmer, its color is less apparent except on especially clear, dark nights.
Completing the main outline of Orion is Saiph, marking the Hunter’s right knee. This is another supergiant star, 22 times the mass of our Sun.
Spot Orion’s Other Features
The three stars of Orion’s Belt are a prominent feature of Orion. These stars span the midsection of the Hunter, forming a straight bright line. Although we call it the Belt, this asterism (unofficial star pattern) has many names in various cultures and religions, including the “yardstick,” the “wand,” and the “Three Kings” (after the Christmas story).
If you are viewing Orion from a dark location, you’ll be able to see his arm rising upward from Betelgeuse. The arm is often depicted as holding a weapon of some sort, often a club. Orion’s other arm extends to the right of Bellatrix and holds a shield to fend off the Hunter’s enemies.
The Orion Nebula
Finally, you may notice a group of three stars hanging downward below the Belt. These are said to represent Orion’s sword. The middle “star” in the sword isn’t a star at all, but is instead a giant cloud of glowing gas and dust known as the Orion Nebula or the Great Nebula in Orion.
This nebula is a stellar nursery, where new stars are being born at this very minute. The cloud glows because many young stars are still embedded within it. With binoculars, the Great Nebula looks like a small, glowing cloud. It is the closest star-forming region to Earth, a mere 1,300 light-years away!
Enjoy the February sky!
Click here or on map below to enlarge (PDF).
Sky map produced using Chris Marriott’s Skymap Pro
Note: How to Read the Sky Map
Our monthly sky map does not show the entire sky which would be almost impossible. Instead, the map focuses on a particular region of the sky each month where something interesting is happening. The legend on the map always tells you which direction you should facing, based on midnight viewing. For example, if the map legend says “Looking Southeast,” you should face southeast when using the map.
The map is accurate for any location at a so-called “mid northern” latitude. That includes anywhere in the 48 U.S. states, southern Canada, central and southern Europe, central Asia, and Japan. If you are located substantially north of these areas, objects on our map will appear lower in your sky, and some objects near the horizon will not be visible at all. If you are substantially south of these areas, everything on our map will appear higher in your sky.
The items labeled in green on the sky map are known as asterisms. These are distinctive star patterns that lie within constellations. When getting your bearings under the stars, it’s often easiest to spot an asterism and use it as a guide to finding the parent constellation.
The numbers along the white “Your Horizon” curve at the bottom of the map are compass points, shown on degrees. As you turn your head from side to side, you will be looking in the compass direction indicated by those numbers. The horizon line is curved in order to preserve the geometry of objects in the sky. If we made the horizon line straight, the geometry of objects in the sky would be distorted.