The Orion Constellation
The Orion constellation has mystified people for at least 32,000 years – if not longer. Filled with two of the brightest stars in the sky and visible in nearly all parts of the world, the constellation is one that you’ve likely peered at and didn’t even know it.
It sits on the celestial equator and has been linked to mythological tales for centuries.
Facts and Myths About the Orion Constellation
Orion comes from the Greek mythology and means “hunter.” As the myth goes, Orion is the son of Euryale and Poseidon, the sea-god. Many versions of his death and birth exist, but it is believed that he was killed either by a giant scorpion or Artemis.
Artemis is the Greek goddess of hunting and is the daughter of Zeus.
She and Orion were hunting partners, and she is often cited as killing Orion. The myths have many stories on Orion’s death, and Artemis killing him seems to be the most interesting version of the tale.
Either Zeus or Artemis placed the giant hunter in the sky to create the constellation of Orion.
Orion’s constellation also has origins in Sumerian mythology through the story of Gilgamesh. In their story, the hero fights the bull of heaven, which is represented by Taurus. They call Taurus “the bull of heaven” and Orion “the light of heaven.”
A few facts about the constellation are:
- Rigel and Betelgeuse, two of the ten brightest stars in the sky, are in the constellation
- Messier 42 and 43, also known as Orion Nebula and De Mairan’s Nebula, are part of the constellation
- Rigel’s magnitude is 018 and in the top six brightest stars in the sky
- Betelgeuse hit its dimmest level in the last 100 years in 2019 and astronomers theorize that it may explode
- Ten stars with planets are found in the constellation, while only seven are considered major
- Gemini and Taurus border the constellation
- Lepus, Monoceros and Eridanus also border Orion
- A mammoth carving dating back 32,000 to 38,000 years is the first known depiction of Orion and was found in West Germany
- January to March are the months where the constellation is most visible
- Orion is often not visible between May and July because it’s in the sky during the daytime
The constellation Orion can be seen by the naked eye, so it is one of the most well-known and fun constellations for people to try and see. Of course, viewing with a telescope can help increase your view.
By Till Credner - Own work: AlltheSky.com
How Many Stars are in the Orion Constellation?
In total, there are 10 named stars in the constellation, which are officially approved by the IAU. Stars and their names are:
Seven main stars exist, but there are ten stars with planets in the constellation along with three Messier objects.
Possibilities of Exoplanets
Astronomers are almost always excited at exploring the constellation because of the possibility of exoplanets, or extra-solar planets. The idea of discovering a new planet is one that excites everyone that looks at the night sky.
There are a lot of potential exoplanets that have been discovered within the constellation, but more research is needed to verify that what is seen is actually a planet and not something else. The planets that are beyond our solar system that are thought to exist are:
- CVSO 30: A staggering 1,200 light years away and is thought to contain a few planets. The discovery took place in 2012. Two potential planets are CVSO 30c and CVSO 30b. Both are question marks because of their distance, but they seem to orbit its star just like the Earth orbits the sun.
- PTFO8-8695b: Thought to be 1,100 light years away, PTFO8-8695b is an interesting planet (if it exists) because it’s so close to its star that it’s being destroyed in the process. The outer layer of the planet is being torn off.
- HD 38529 b and c: Two gases that have a large debris disk that may or may not turn out to be actual planets after all – only time will tell.
Additional, potential, exoplanets also include HD 38858 b and HD 37605 b. Again, verifying that all of these potential exoplanets are actually planets is difficult until technology advances. Tomorrow or a hundred years from now, the names of these planets may cease to exist, or they may be proven to be actual planets.
Where is the Orion Constellation?
The Orion constellation is visible worldwide and can be found in the celestial equator. When you look up at the night sky, you’ll be able to see Orion, although certain times of the year are better than others to view it.
Learning how to find the constellation is your first step to exploring it.
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How to Find the Orion Constellation
Orion is one of the brightest constellations in the sky and is clearly visible from the months of November through February. It also ranks as the 26th constellation in size. Orion occupies an area of 594 square degrees.
- If you are in the Northern Hemisphere, the Orion constellation is in the southwestern sky.
- If you are in the Southern Hemisphere, the Orion constellation is in the northwestern sky.
To get the best view of this constellation, look between:
- In the first quadrant of the Northern Hemisphere, and
- Latitudes 85 and minus 75
Orion’s declination is five degrees, and its right ascension is five hours.
The stars that form Orion’s belt – Alnilam, Alnitak and Mintaka – are the most prominent stars in the constellation.
Betelgeuse is the second brightest star in the constellation and forms the hunter’s right shoulder.
The Bellatrix star forms Orion’s left shoulder.
The constellations neighboring Orion include Gemini, Eridanus, Monoceros, Lepus and Taurus.
Orion is a great constellation that you can look at without a telescope and imagine people throughout history doing the same. Known for illuminating the night sky, you’ll want to try and find the two brightest stars first before identifying the rest: Rigel and Betelgeuse.
If you have the right telescope or can visit an observatory in your area, you’ll be able to explore Orion even more.