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The Hunter in the Sky

Learn how to locate Orion in the night sky.

Visible worldwide, one of the most recognizable constellations in the night sky is Orion. Orion is easily identified by his “belt,” three bright stars (named Alnitak, Alnilam, and Mintaka) in a row. The outline of his body consists of four bright stars surrounding the belt. A smaller, fainter line of three stars – the middle “star” actually being the Orion Nebula – descends from Orion’s belt, representing his sword. Locating Orion can help guide you to other stars. For instance, the prominent star, Sirius, can be found southeastward of Orion’s belt.

Also known as “The Hunter,” Orion is named for a figure in Greek mythology. The story says that Orion tragically died after stepping on Scorpius, the scorpion. Feeling sorry for him, the gods placed Orion and his dogs, Canis Major and Canis Minor, in the sky as constellations. Animals that Orion hunted, such as Taurus the bull and Lepus the rabbit, were placed near him, but the deadly scorpion was placed on the opposite side of the sky so he could never again harm Orion.

Orion has long fascinated people of all cultures throughout the course of history. Ancient Sumerians identified the constellation as a shepherd. The three great pyramids of Giza in Egypt are thought to be a sky-map of Orion’s belt. Finnish mythology refers to Orion as a scythe, most likely due to the constellation’s evening appearance during harvest season. Orion is even mentioned three separate times in the Bible.

The Orionids meteor shower that occurs around October 21 is named for Orion, the constellation where the shooting stars originate. As many as twenty meteors per hour may be seen during this annual event.

In the mid-latitudes of the Northern Hemisphere, Orion can be seen in the evenings from October through early January and in the early mornings from late July through November.

Dondra Vaughn

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