Sun. Feb 25th, 2024
Featured constellation: Orion

For thousands of years, humans have looked at the stars. The stars helped them try to understand their purpose and the role they play in our lives.

To help memorize the different stars, many different cultures created connect-the-dot figure patterns. Today we recognize 88 official patterns or “constellations” of stars.

Today we will explore one of the best-known constellations: Orion.

What is a constellation?

Stars with a nebula in the center.

To start, let’s see what a constellation is.

A constellation is simply a two-dimensional view of the stars as seen from our planet. In reality, the stars are located at quite different distances from us and are usually unrelated to stars in other constellations.

For example, the middle star of Orion’s belt (Alnilam) appears to have the same brightness as the other two stars in the belt. However, in reality, it is twice as far away as the leftmost belt star, Alnitak, and Betelgeuse, the red star marking one of Orion’s shoulders.

Orion

Orion is the great and boastful hunter of Greek mythology.

constellation diagram

Beneath Orion’s belt is his sword. The middle object inside the sword is a hazy, fuzzy object that, when magnified, appears as a cloud of glowing gas (easy to see with binoculars from the skies over provincial parks).

Orion is accompanied by his hunting dogs (Canis Major and Canis Minor) and is fighting the Taurus Bull.

To find Canis Major, follow Orion’s belt toward Sirius, the brightest star in the night sky. A collection of medium-bright stars flowing downward and to the left mark the large dog’s body.

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If you follow the star belt to the upper right, you will find the reddish star Aldebaran which, with a cluster of faint stars, forms a “V”. The “V” represents the face of the bull (Aldebaran is the eye), and there are two stars above the face forming the horns of Taurus.

Towards the back of Taurus, you can find a star cluster known as the Pleiades. This group, also known as the “Seven Sisters”, is not a formal constellation. However, it is often confused with the small saucepan.

For more information on January astronomy, visit our Eyes on the Skies post.