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.
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