Orion original A395165 by Gaurav

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To anyone living in the Northern Hemisphere, one of the most familiar constellations, and indeed the easiest to find, is Orion. Not only is 'The Hunter' amazingly large and beautiful, but it can also be used to find some of the most beautiful stars in the sky.

The Myth

According to mythology, Orion was one of the greatest hunters the world has ever seen. There are two versions of the Orion story.

In the first version, he was the son of the sea-god Neptune and Queen Euryale of the Amazons. He inherited his mother's hunting talent and became an excellent hunter. Unfortunately, his ego was to be his undoing. In response to his boast that he could kill any animal in the world, he was killed by a scorpion.

In the second version, he was first blinded by King Oenopian1 and then killed by Diana who was the 'virgin' goddess of hunting. She fell in love with Orion but her brother, Apollo, did not like this, and subsequently tricked her into shooting a black 'animal' swimming in the water - which, alas, turned out to be Orion's hair.

In the sky, Orion is shown to be hunting the bull, Taurus, assisted by his hunting dogs, Canis Major and Canis Minor.

How to Find It

Look into the sky and look for three very bright stars in a straight line. If any stars are visible at all, and assuming that Orion is above the horizon from your viewpoint, then these three can be seen even in the worst light conditions, eg from inside a city. What you've found is Orion's Belt. Four stars arranged in a box around the belt enclose the constellation, one each representing Orion's shoulders and legs. Others form a sword hanging from the belt.

Some Famous Stars

One of the closest stars to the Belt is Betelgeuse, a red supergiant which forms Orion's right shoulder. To find it, imagine a line at right angles to the belt (the side will differ, depending on where you are) and look for a star with an obvious reddish tint. Once you have one shoulder, the other four points are easy to see; the star that represents his left leg is Rigel.

The most famous star near the Belt is Sirius, the Dog Star, brightest star in the sky. All you have to do is join the three stars of the belt, and follow the line they make, until you hit a very bright blueish-white star.

This should not be confused with Aldebaran. To find this red star, join the stars, but follow the line in the opposite direction to Sirius.

Another interesting star is the white star Procyon. Imagine Betelgeuse and Sirius as being two points in an equilateral triangle. The third point (on the side away from the Belt) is Procyon. This triangle, incidentally, is called the Winter Triangle.

In addition, on a really clear night you should be able to see the Orion Nebula dangling from the belt like a sword. This is not a star at all, but a distant cloud of gas and dust in which new stars are being formed - a sort of stellar nursery. It appears particularly impressive when viewed through a telescope.

1King Oenopian blinded Orion after Orion tried to forcibly marry his daughter.

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