February is the month to get the most from the famous constellation of Orion the Hunter. The familiar grouping is climbing high into the south early in the evening, making it the best guidepost to the Winter night skies.
Orion is easy to identify because of its three prominent “belt stars” arranged in a convenient line, surrounded by four more bright stars representing the character’s shoulders and knees. But its notoriety comes from cultural factors as well. It may have been known as a “mighty hunter” to the Greeks but many other civilizations had celebrated descriptions for this group as well. One of my favorites come from the Tewa People, who referred to Orion as their Chief Long Sash. Long Sash was remembered for leading his people westward in search of a new land away from their enemies who were constantly raiding their villages. It’s a wonderful story about perseverance, equality and humility – highly valued traits of the Tewa Pueblo People.
The bright reddish star in Orion’s shoulder is sometimes called “Beetlejuice” (like the movie), because it’s true name is “Betelgeuse” (an ancient Arabic word that roughly translates into “Armpit of the Mighty One”!). Betelgeuse is a massive Supergiant star nearing the end of its life, and new images of its surrounding stellar neighborhood were just released. Also most notable in the sword beneath Orion’s Belt lies one of the most famous cosmic clouds in the sky – The Orion Nebula, a massive collection of dust and gas giving birth to hundreds of new stars.
We’ll present some special features of this constellation on the dome that you can’t experience on any computer screen or movie, but we’ll also show how the pattern of Orion itself can make for one of the best guideposts to the Winter sky. Selected stars in this constellation can serve as “pointers” to other major stars and deep sky wonders, many visible to the naked eye or binoculars.
Get ready for a multitude of astronomical treats. From Orion to the “Dog Star,” Taurus to the “The Seven Sisters,” this is the season for celestial riches! Join us for Gateway to the Stars in the Hansen Dome Theatre Saturday, February 2 at 6:45 p.m.