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Orion is easily one of the most recognizable constellations in the night sky. Since it’s extremely popular, there are many interesting facts and myths about the constellation.
Many people also have questions about Orion, and here, we do our best to answer them. If you’re interested in learning more about this popular constellation, you’ve come to the right place!
The stars in the Orion constellation formed millions of years ago, though humans started noticing them a bit later than that! Still, with depictions of the Orion constellation showing up in cave paintings from over 32,000 years ago, it’s not exactly a new discovery.
But keep in mind that while humans noticed this constellation 32,000 years ago, they didn’t call it the Orion constellation, and they likely had their own mythologies about it.
While Orion might be one of the most recognizable and well-known constellations in the sky, it’s far from the biggest. In fact, of the 88 International Astronomical Union-recognized constellations, Orion is the 26th largest. That’s still far up the list, but it’s not near the top!
Speaking of size, how do we determine how big a constellation is in the sky? By how many square degrees that it takes up! With the Orion constellation, that number equals 594 square degrees, which means it takes up a big portion of the sky.
While there are many stars in the Orion constellation, only 10 have formally recognized names: Alnilam, Alnitak, Bellatrix, Betelgeuse, Hatysa, Meissa, Mintaka, Rigel, Saiph, and Tabit. These are only a fraction of the total number of stars in the Orion constellation, though.
While only 10 of the stars in the Orion constellation have official names, there are far more stars there. There are seven main stars and 81 total stars in the Orion constellation, but you can only see most of these stars if you’re in an area with optimal viewing conditions.
You can only see certain constellations at certain parts of the year, and Orion is no different. This constellation is visible throughout the northern hemisphere from November to February, so if you want to get the best view of this constellation, you’ll need to head out on a cold fall or winter night.
While you can see Orion best during the cooler months in the northern hemisphere, in the southern hemisphere, the opposite is true. You can see Orion best in the southern hemisphere throughout the summer months, meaning you should head out during warm summer nights to get the best view of the constellation.
Messier objects are among the most recognized and highly sought-after deep sky objects for backyard astronomers, and if you’re trying to track them down, having the ability to locate the Orion constellation makes things easier.
In fact, three of the Messier objects are within Orion itself. These are the Orion Nebula (M42), the De Mairan’s Nebula (M43), and Messier 78.
While there are three Messier objects inside the Orion constellation, they’re far from the only recognizable deep-sky objects within the constellation. The Horsehead Nebula, Barnard’s Loop, Flame Nebula, and Monkey Head Nebula also reside within the Orion constellation.
When you look up at the Orion constellation, it can be easy to assume that those stars are close to each other. But the seven main stars in the Orion constellation actually range from 243 to 1,360 lightyears from Earth!
For reference, that means the closest main star from Orion is more than five times closer to Earth than the farthest main star in the constellation.
While the stars in the Orion constellation might be far apart, they have quite a bit in common. Of the seven different main stars in the Orion constellation, all but one are bright young blue giants or supergiants.
The only star that doesn’t fit the mold is Betelgeuse. It’s a main star in the Orion constellation, but it’s a red giant. It’s also a massive star compared to both our Sun and the other stars in the Orion constellation.
Betelgeuse’s size is mind-boggling compared to the Earth. At any given moment, it sits between 550 and 920 times the size of Earth. But this large range isn’t because we can’t narrow it down further, the diameter actually changes this much!
At its largest point, the diameter of Betelgeuse would stretch all the way from the Sun’s current location to Jupiter!
If you’re trying to figure out the brightest star in the Orion constellation, you might think that the honor would fall to the largest star there. But Rigel is the brightest star in Orion, and it’s the seventh brightest star in the sky.
It’s 120,000 times as bright as our Sun and more than twice as hot. Moreover, Rigel is 79 times larger in diameter than the Sun but only has 21 times the mass.
It’s time to learn about the mythology behind the name. According to Greek mythology, Orion was a Greek hunter who was extremely handsome and the son of Poseidon. Orion is mentioned in “The Odyssey” and wields an unbreakable bronze club.
There are a few different stories about how Orion ended up in the sky. Some legends say that he fell in love with Pleiades, others say with Merope. Most legends claim that Orion died in a fight with a scorpion, which gives extra meaning to Scorpius in the night sky.
Now that you know more about Orion, all that’s left is for you to try to spot the constellation for yourself! Most people start by tracking down the three stars in a row that make up Orion’s belt and then go from there.
Keep your gaze starward, and keep asking questions because when it comes to space and even the Orion constellation, as there’s still so much to learn!
Featured Image Credit: Ad_hominem, Shutterstock
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Robert’s obsession with all things optical started early in life, when his optician father would bring home prototypes for Robert to play with. Nowadays, Robert is dedicated to helping others find the right optics for their needs. His hobbies include astronomy, astrophysics, and model building. Originally from Newark, NJ, he resides in Santa Fe, New Mexico, where the nighttime skies are filled with glittering stars.
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