Intro and Visual description
Three stars in a row make up Orion’s belt, within a rectangle of four bright stars representing his shoulders and feet.
At sunset in the autumn, Orion’s belt appears to rise straight up on the horizon.
Orion is included in the ancient star catalogs of Eudoxos of Knidos, Aratos of Soli, and Ptolemy.
The sword hanging from his belt includes M42, the beautiful Orion nebula.
In a comical ballad called "The Star-Splitter," Robert Frost described a man outdoors splitting firewood after the first frost of autumn. Frost’s poetic tale reminds us that Orion’s rising on the eastern horizion at sunset is a marker of autumn.
However, for early risers it is visible all summer. Ancient Greeks marked the Mediterranean harvest seasons with Orion’s positions. The poet Hesiod admonished his nephew farmer to watch for the early summer rising of Orion at sunrise: "Forget not, when Orion first appears, To make your servants thresh the sacred ears..." Late in summer, at the time of the grape harvest, Orion rises at midnight. And when Orion rises at sunset in autumn, sailors knew that the time had come to bring their ships to port: | ...then the winds war aloud, | And veil the ocean with a sable cloud: | Then round the bank, already haul’d on shore, | Lay stones, to fix her when the tempests roar...
Since Orion’s belt of three bright stars lies upon the celestial equator, Orion is visible from every inhabited part of the globe.
Orion the hunter appropriately faces the red eye of Taurus. His two hunting dogs follow behind: The Big Dog or Canis Major, with the bright star Sirius. And the Little Dog, or Canis Minor, with the bright star Procyon.
What do you hunt, Orion, | This starry night? | The Ram, the Bull, and the Lion, | And the Great Bear, says Orion, | With my starry quiver and beautiful belt | I am trying to find a good thick pelt | To warm my shoulders tonight, | To warm my shoulders tonight
Orion’s right shoulder is Betelgeuse, a red giant that is one of the largest of stars in the sky. If Betelgeuse were our Sun, its surface would reach beyond the orbit of Mars! Betelgeuse was known as Borgil in Middle Earth. (Rachel Magruder)
Bluish Rigel is Orion’s left foot, the 7th brightest star in the sky.
M42, Orion Nebula (Diffuse nebula), mag. 4.0.
A sword hanging from his belt at first sight looks like three stars, but the middle one is ill-defined. With binoculars you can tell that it is not a star, but a cloudy region, called the Great Orion Nebula. A powerful telescope reveals the nebula to be a giant cloud of luminous gas, a cosmic nursery where stars are now being born. Through the Hubble space telescope the Great Orion Nebula becomes a colorful and awesome spectacle, over 20,000 times larger than our solar system.
M43 (Diffuse nebula), mag. 9.0.
M78 (Diffuse nebula), mag. 8.3.