Focus: Orion the Hunter

LatestOf all the beautiful winter constellations, Orion the Hunter is perhaps the most magnificent and perhaps the most observed. Most people can easily see the Great Orion Nebula, M42, described in this page from Ethan Siegal. 

But the Orion constellation has more to offer than just the great nebula. The Hunter’s Belt runs a NW to SE line and includes three bright second-magnitude stars. Running from West to East the Belt stars are Mintaka, Alnilam and Alnitak, all from the Arabic meaning of “belt” or “girdle”.

The Hunter‘s right shoulder is one of my favourite stars, Betelgeuse, a first magnitude, red supergiant destined to explode as a supernova sometime in the near future (in astronomical terms). Orion’s left shoulder is the 2nd magnitude star Bellatrix, while the right knee is another bright supergiant, the young bluish-white Rigel. The beautiful blue Saiph marks the left knee of the Hunter.

Above the line intersecting the shoulder stars are three stars dominated by third magnitude Meissa. These form the head of the great Hunter. (You may see a fourth star but I believe this is an “optical” member only, meaning that it is in the line of sight but it is not a member of the three star system that forms the hunter’s head.)

To the right, Orion holds a lion skin to take charge of Taurus the Bull, while over his head he holds a club to help tame the beast.

Orion is a spectacular constellation to explore with binoculars, or any size telescope as there are so many interesting and bright supergiant stars visible. Obviously the Great Orion Nebula is the top attraction but there are many other objects to explore in this area of the sky, including two more Messier Objects, M43 and M78.

Next clear night, read a little about the constellation from this excellent resource page and then take a star map and point your binoculars or telescope toward Orion the Hunter and explore this fabulous constellation. You won’t regret it.

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