Located on the celestial equator, Orion is a prominent constellation and is one of the most recognizable constellations in the night sky. It is named after Orion, a hunter in Greek mythology. Its brightest stars are blue-white Rigel and red Betelgeuse.
Covering 594 square degrees, Orion ranks as the 26th largest of the 88 constellations in size. Orion is most visible in the evening sky from January to March, which is winter in the Northern Hemisphere.
|Visibility In Pacific Northwest||October to March|
|Best Times To View||January|
|Area||594 square degrees|
|Meteor showers||Orionids, Chi Orionids|
|Neighboring Constellations||Gemini, Taurus, Eridanus, Lepus, Monoceros|
The history of Orion has prehistoric origins as the earliest known depiction is a mammoth ivory carving found in a cave that is estimated to be 32,000 to 38,000 years old. Since then, the constellation has become recognized in numerous cultures worldwide, garnering many myths.
The Babylonian star catalogues of the Late Bronze Age name Orion MULSIPA.ZI.AN.NA,[note 1] “The Heavenly Shepherd” or “True Shepherd of Anu” – Anu being the chief god of the heavenly realms. The Babylonian constellation is sacred to Papshukal and Ninshubur, both minor gods fulfilling the role of ‘messenger to the gods’. Papshukal is closely associated with the figure of a walking bird on Babylonian boundary stones, and on the star map the figure of the Rooster is located below and behind the figure of the True Shepherd—both constellations represent the herald of the gods, in his bird and human forms respectively.
The Bible mentions Orion three times, naming it “Kesil,” which could be etymologically connected with the Hebrew name for the ninth month of the Hebrew calendar.
In Greek mythology, Orion was a gigantic, supernaturally strong hunter, who was born to Euryale and Poseidon. There is a myth that says that as a result of Gaia’s rage at Orion, who dared to say that he would kill every animal on Earth, attempted to dispatch Orion with a scorpion. This is given as the reason that the constellations of Scorpius and Orion are never in the sky at the same time. However, Ophiuchus, the Serpent Bearer, revived Orion with an antidote. This is said to be why the constellation of Ophiuchus stands midway between the Scorpion and the Hunter in the sky.
In China, Orion was one of the 28 lunar mansions Sieu.
In India, Nataraja ‘the cosmic dancer,’ which is an avatar of Shiva, is seen in the constellation called Orion.
Scandinavian tradition refers to “Orion’s belt” as Frigg’s Distaff or Freyja’s distaff.
In Siberia, the Chukchi people see Orion as a hunter.
The same three stars are known in Spain and most of Latin America as “Las tres Marías,” which is spanish for “The Three Marys.”
The Ojibwa, also known as the Chippewa, Native Americans call this constellation Kabibona’kan, the Winter Maker, as its presence in the night sky heralds winter.
To the Lakota Native Americans, Tayamnicankhu, Orion’s Belt, is the spine of a bison.
The 7 primary stars of Orion make up the Polynesian constellation Heiheionakeiki which represents a child’s string figure similar to a cat’s cradle.
7 of Orion’s brightest stars form a distinctive hourglass-shaped asterism, as the stars Rigel, Betelgeuse, Bellatrix and Saiph form a large roughly rectangular shape. In the center of this rectangle lies the three stars of Orion’s Belt, Alnitak, Alnilam and Mintaka. Descending from the ‘belt’ is Orion’s Sword, the middle of which is the Orion Nebula, which is also known as the hunter’s sword.
Many of the stars in the constellation are luminous hot blue supergiants.
Using a small telescope will allow an observer to reveal a plethora of deep-sky objects, including M43, M78, Iota Orionis, and Sigma Orionis. A larger telescope can reveal additional objects such as Barnard’s Loop and the Flame Nebula.
Hanging from Orion’s belt is his sword, consisting of the multiple stars, which are known as the Trapezium and the Orion Nebula or M42. This is a spectacular object that can be clearly identified with the naked eye as something other than a star. Using binoculars, its clouds of nascent stars, luminous gas, and dust can be observed.
Messier 42, otherwise known as the Orion Nebula is the closest large star-forming region to Earth with an apparent magnitude of 4. It is visible with the naked eye and has been observed by civilizations throughout history.
Messier 43 or M43, is otherwise known as De Mairan’s Nebula and NGC 1982, is a star-forming nebula. M43 contains a massive star that is illuminating the nebula, which is sculpting the landscape of dust and gas with its radiation. Astronomers call the area a miniature Orion Nebula because of its small size and the single star that is shaping it.
M78, otherwise known as NGC 2068, is a reflection nebula discovery in 1780. Although it is significantly dimmer than the Great Orion Nebula that lies to its south, M78 lies at approximately the same distance. It can easily be mistaken for a comet in the eyepiece of a telescope.
The Horsehead Nebula, otherwise known as IC 434 gets its name from the dark dust cloud, whose shape gives the nebula its name.
NGC 2174, otherwise known as the Monkey Head Nebula is an emission nebula located and is a site of intense star formation.