Searching the sky: Orion the Great Hunter

David Baumgartner writes that now it's the time to start learning about constellations.

This column was provided by San Benito resident and amateur astronomer David Baumgartner as part of a local series on astronomy.


If you haven’t already, the beginning of the year is a good time to start learning the constellations. Mainly because you can start with the easiest and brightest of them all, Orion the Great Hunter.

Constellations are imaginary pictures made of stars, and this one is a picture of a huge man called Orion. Any winter evening you will see him immediately in the middle of the sky. His two shoulders and two knees are marked by four bright stars. Across the middle of this rectangle is his sloping belt of three stars. That makes seven very bright stars in Orion. More than any other constellation.

Orion’s left shoulder is a red star called Betelgeuse, named long before the movie. His right knee is a blue star named Rigel.

Look back and forth between them and notice the color difference. Down from the belt you will find three fainter stars that make up his sword. The middle one is not really a star but a famous nebula called the Great Orion Nebula. This nebula is one of the most spectacular sights in the heavens. Make sure you get a chance to see it through a telescope or even a pair of binoculars; it’s certainly worth the time.

In the Greek legends and stories of the night sky, Orion was not the favorite hunter in the neighborhood. Mainly because Orion would boast that he would, in time, rid the world of all wild animals. The Gods were not in favor of Orion’s quest so they sent an enormous scorpion out to sting him. Orion died, but the Gods must have had some regret for they put his picture up on one side of the sky, and the scorpion’s far away on the opposite side of the sky.

So when Orion is just rising in the East, the scorpion is sinking out of sight in the West. We will see this scorpion, known as the constellation Scorpius, in the summer months.

So get out there one of these winter evenings and pick out your favorite constellation. Whichever it is, I bet you find yourself coming back to the Great Hunter. But to be safe; keep any of your wild animals at home. You just never know how realistic these Greek legends can turn out to be.

Clear skies….


Events for February

Feb. 23: Last Quarter Moon

Feb. 26: Moon is at perigee (228,533 miles from Earth)

Feb. 27: Moon passes 9° south of Venus

Feb. 27: Moon passes 4° south of Mars

Feb. 28: Moon passes 4° south of Mercury

Feb. 28: Moon passes 4° south of Saturn


David Baumgartner

I am a local fella. Local schools from Fremont, Sacred Heart, Santa Anita, Hollister High, to San Benito Jr. College (Now Gavilan). Then joined the US Air Force where I specialized in Airborne Radar. Married my high school sweetheart JoAnne., shortly after three children arrived; Cindi, Michael, and Lisa. Somehow we ended up with nine Grandchildren.  Went on to San Luis Obispo, Questa, Colleges, and on to Univ. of New Mexico. Came back to Hollister. Opened up Three Pet Stores; Dave's Aquarium Pets & Supplies in SLO, Watsonville, and Hollister. The family spent two and a half years running a ranch up in Oregon. Made our way back to Hollister.  Got my Real Estate License in 1982, opened my own office in 93'. In the mean time raised Swans and revitalized my old hobby of Astronomy.  In 2001 I was named Chamber of Commence Man of the Year. I think I was the only one nominated. I don't care, I'm taking it. In December of 2018 I retired. Not sure if I was forced out or not. None the less, I am retired and I think it was time. Now the last thing I have to do is buy a coffin. I hear COSCO sells them now. But the only drawback is; you have to buy them in lots of six.  I guess I could buy them for the whole family. Not that funny, but thrifty.