CONSTELLATION OF THE MONTH – ORION THE HUNTER

The majestic constellation of Orion is the highlight of the winter skies. It was listed by the Greek astronomer Ptolemy in the second century AD. Orion is the hunter of the sky seen marching with his two hunting dogs Canis Major and Canis Minor.

You’ll easily recognise Orion by the three bright stars in a line. These are the stars that make up Orion’s belt. You’ll also notice two very bright supergiant stars at upper left and lower right. Betelguese is upper left and is an orange red gigantic star so large in diameter that if placed where our Sun sits, both Earth and Mars would orbit within its radius! Rigel is the other supergiant blazing blue white at an intense 11,000 Kelvin. Pretty hot considering stainless steel turns to liquid at just over 1500 K!

Looking down from the middle belt star is a small grouping of faint stars. This little region is made up of very young hot ‘baby’ stars shrouded in a high concentration of interstellar dust and gas. It is a stellar nursery known as the Great Orion Nebula where new stars are born. Binoculars will reveal a tiny misty patch of sky with small stars within.

Orion is currently due south at around 8pm.

Wrap up warm and happy viewing!

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