Winter may mean less hours of daylight, but that isn’t all bad. It gives us more time to enjoy the night sky. And there are so many beautiful stars to gaze at. There is one winter constellation that stands out as the most recognizable to people everywhere: Orion, the hunter. You can use Orion to learn a lot about astronomy and even find other constellations in the sky.
Orion is a constellation named after a hunter from Greek mythology. You can see he is holding a weapon in his right hand and a shield in his left. Let’s take a closer look at some of the things you could go outside to observe in the night sky.
There are many different types of stars. And stars have life cycles! It can get complicated and confusing, but one thing you can observe easily without a telescope is the difference between red and blue stars. Look at the picture. Can you see Orion’s belt? Now look up at Orion’s right shoulder. That is a star named Betelgeuse. It is the only red giant in Orion. All the other stars are blue. Go outside at night and see if you can find it in the sky!
Asterisms in the sky
The three stars that make up Orion’s belt are an asterism. An asterism is an easily recognizable group or pattern of stars. All the stars in an asterism are about equal in how bright they appear to us. Because they are easily recognizable, they can help us find other stars and constellations in the sky.
Words to know
Asterism: A prominent pattern or group of stars smaller than a constellation.
Constellation: A group of stars forming a recognizable pattern.
Mythology: A collection of myths belonging to a particular religious or cultural tradition.
Did you know the Big Dipper is an asterism? It is the seven brightest stars in the constellation Ursa Major, also known as Big Bear. Asterisms can also connect stars from other constellations. The Winter Triangle is an asterism that connects Betelgeuse to the brightest stars in the constellations Canis Major and Canis Minor.
Finding other constellations
Stars move slowly across the sky. When Orion is high and bright in the middle of the sky, you can use it to find other constellations.
Look at Orion’s belt again. If you follow that asterism pointing downward, you will find Sirius. That is the brightest star in the sky (second to the sun of course). It is also called the dog star and is part of Canis Major, or the Big Dog constellation. It is one of Orion’s hunting dogs. The other hunting dog is the constellation Canis Minor. If you find the shoulder stars of Orion, follow them from left to right to another bright star, Procycon. It is the brightest of two stars that make up the Little Dog constellation.
If you follow Orion’s belt in the opposite direction upward, it points to Taurus. Taurus is the bull that Orion is fighting. Now find Orion’s left knee. That is a star called Rigel. It is the brightest star in the Orion constellation. If you make a line from Rigel to Betelgeuse and follow it upward, you will see the Gemini constellation.
Now you are ready to impress your friends and family with all your newly learned astronomy facts. So bundle up, fill a Thermos with some hot chocolate or cider and grab some thick, warm blankets. Then head outside to gaze at the stars!
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