This article was contributed by David Baumgartner as part of a local series on astronomy.
Everyone who looks up into the night sky will notice stars that seem to form in patterns, called “constellations.” Eventually you will come to know and pick out your favorite or favorites. Sometimes you look at certain constellations and wonder how in the world did they come up with a name like that? Back in ancient times people would look up into the dark skies and feel compelled to form these stars into groups and give them names. Well they didn’t give them names to correspond to what they looked like, but names for Gods and warriors and such. For how would you name the big “W” Queen Cassiopeia? I guess they had a keener sense of imagination than I. But not so with all of the names, for instance. Leo the Lion, Gemini the Twins, Cygnus the Swan, and of course Orion the Great Hunter, our constellation of the month, all look somewhat like they look in the sky. Stretch your imagination a little and you get a little idea of what our ancestors were looking for.
Look up any winter evening and you will see Orion, in the middle of the sky. His shoulders and knees are marked by four bright stars. Across the middle of this rectangle is his belt of three stars. Seven bright stars in all. Orion has more of these bright stars than any other constellation. Many people believe this is the Big Dipper because of the large square, but not to be. One of the most exquisite objects to point your telescope at is the Orion Nebula; this too will verify your favoritism for this constellation. Don’t look at this nebula first off in the night, for you may not look at anything else in the sky for the rest of the evening. I have more photos of the Orion Nebula than any other object, except maybe my dog.
Okay, enough for being nice. In Greek legends, Orion was a great hunter. He boasted that he would soon rid the world of all wild animals. The Gods did not want this to happen, so they sent an enormous scorpion to sting him. He died, but the Gods were kinder to him after that: they put his picture on one side of the sky, and the scorpion’s picture far away on the opposite side of the sky. Now Orion keeps as far away as he can from the scorpion. So as soon as Scorpius rises in the east, Orion sets in the west just to keep his distance.
Just as Orion is the brilliant central constellation of the winter evening sky, so Scorpius is the brilliant central constellation of the summer evening sky.
So don’t miss the Orion Hunter, it comes up later in the evening, but later on he will be up all night for you to see.
January Upcoming Events
Jan. 17: Moon passes 4° south of Neptune
Jan. 20: First Quarter Moon
Jan. 21: Moon passes 5° south of Mars
Jan. 21: Moon passes 3° south of Uranus
Jan. 21: Moon is sat apogee (251,258 miles from Earth)
Jan. 21: Mars passes 1.7° north of Uranus
Jan. 28: Full Moon