Astronomy: The Orion Constellation

Orion is the most prominent and arguably the most visually impressive constellation you’ll come across, when in full view it covers a large area of the visible night sky.

Orion can be easily spotted even by non astronomers due to it’s distinctive belt which consists of three bright stars in a line.

The constellation represents the great hunter Orion who in legend was believed to have the ability to kill anything until himself being killed by the sting of a scorpion.

Orion’s Brightest Stars

Once you first see Orion in all it’s glory you will never mistake it for anything else.

In the bottom right hand corner (when Orion is high and vertical in the sky) you’ll see the constellations brightest star Rigel which is believed to be more than 60,000 times as luminous as our Sun.

The second brightest star is the red supergiant Betelgeuse (or Betelgeux) which could potentially go supernova at anytime. Located in Orion’s upper left side this massive star is so huge that if it were placed where our sun is it would reach out far enough to consume planet Earth.

Even viewing Betelgeuse with the naked eye you should notice it’s reddish appearance setting it apart from other stars around it.

Orion’s Belt

One of the greatest sights you can appropriate with the naked eye is the belt of Orion. The belt is made up of the three stars Alnitak, Alnilam and Mintaka in a clear line and they are truly unmistakable.

As you look up in awe of this great sight just think you are doing exactly what millions of other humans have done before you for thousands of years. In fact many believe the ancient Egyptians built the three largest pyramids in Giza to deliberately match the lay out of Orion’ belt.

The Great Nebula M42

If you look directly below the middle star of Orion’s belt you should see what looks like three smaller stars in a line going down. The middle of these three stars is actually a nebula which is where stars are born.

Nebular are made up of vast areas of hot gas and dust which collect together over millions of years to from new stars.

This particular nebula called M42 or the Great Orion Nebula is referred to as a Trapezium due to the pattern made by it’s main four components.

The Great Nebula already contains a number of recently (within the last few million years) formed stars. A telescope will be needed to fully appreciate M42’s visual magnificence.