The Star Tale of the Orion Constellation

Published on November 07, 2018

On a bright and starry sky, as you look up trying to connect the twinkling dots to form shapes you learned in astronomy class, have you ever wondered how many constellations are there in heaven?

Officially, there are 88 constellations covering our entire sky both in the northern and southern hemispheres as recognized by astronomers. Shapes of men and women, animals, ancient characters like centaurs, dragon, and winged stallion, and even inanimate objects are represented in these constellations in the night sky. However, most of these patterns are not that easy to find amongst the millions of stars shining above. Majority of these constellations hold very little resemblance to the forms they are supposed to represent and whose name they bear. But if you are eager to truly find one in the sky, there are those whose patterns you can easily spot by glance. One of those is the Orion constellation.

Lying on the celestial equator, the Orion constellation is one of the most brightest and recognizable constellations in the sky and can be observed throughout the world.

How you can spot the Orion

The Orion constellation is located at latitudes between +85° and -75°.

In the Northern Hemisphere, Orion can be seen by observers in the southwestern sky where it is clearly visible in the evening from the month of November to early May, and in the morning from the month of late July to November. Its appearance in the night sky signals the beginning of winter. This is the reason why the Ojibwa or Chippewa Native Americans names this constellation Kabibona’kan, the Winter Maker.

In the Southern hemisphere, however, Orion comes out at night during the summer months in the northwestern sky where it appears upside down.


The Orion Family

Along with the Canis Major, Canis Minor, Lepus, and Monoceros, Orion belongs to the Orion family constellations as is depicted as a giant hunter with a belt and sword around his waist, and a shield in hand. Beneath his feet, his hunting dogs, represented by Canis Major and Canis Minor, are chasing after a hare, which is the constellation Lepus. Together with the unicorn Monoceros located behind Orion, these five constellations create the Orion family.

The Seven Stars

With the exception of the red supergiant Betelgeuse, all of Orion’s seven stars are young blue supergiants. In ascending to descending order, Orion’s brightest stars are as follows:

  1. Rigel (Beta Orionis)

The brightest of Orion and also the sixth brightest star in the sky. It is a star system composed of three stars and is 17 times more massive than our sun and shines 85,000 times brighter. Rigel symbolizes Orion’s left foot and has an Arabic name called igl al-gabbar, or “the foot of the great one.”

  1. Betelgeuse (Alpha Orionis)

The second brightest of Orion and eight brightest star in the sky. It is the only red supergiant of Orion and serves as the right shoulder of the hunter. It is already as old as 10 million years old, and will likely end its life in a supernova explosion.

  1. Bellatrix (Gamma Orionis)

Sometimes called the Amazon Star, its name comes from a Latin word meaning “the female warrior.” It is a blue-white giant star that is 8 times more massive than our sun, and emits around 6,400 times more light. It forms Orion’s left shoulder.

  1. Alnilam (Epsilon Orionis)

Also a blue supergiant around 1,300 light years away is around 24 times bigger than our sun.

  1. Alnitak (Zeta Orionis)

Alnitak is a triple star system with its primary component about 20 times bigger than our sun, and around 10,000 times more luminous. Alnitak is derived from the Arabic word an-nitaq, which means “the girdle” and joins one of the stars in Orion’s belt.

  1. Saiph (Kappa Orionis)

Found 720 light years distant and has around 16 times the sun’s mass, and shines 18,000 times brighter.

  1. Mintaka (Delta Orionis)

It is a multiple star system 900 light years distant. Together with Alnitak and Alnilam, they form Orion’s belt. These three stars comprising the belt are also popularly known as the “Three Brother Star” or Bintang Tiga Beradik by the Malays.

Star Tale of Greek Mythology

The tale of Orion was a story widely known, told among generations throughout Ancient Greece, and so characters, settings, and other narratives vary between versions, with different areas of Greece claiming the original mythological story for themselves.

According to the oldest myth, Orion was a son born of the sea god, Poseidon and Euryale, daughter of King Minos of Crete. His father gifted him the power to walk on water, which is how he reached the island of Chios.

On the island of Chios, Orion met and fell in love with Merope, daughter of King Oenopion. He pursued her and tried to prove his worth to her father but without success for King Oenopion had no wish to see his daughter marry Orion. Frustrated and drunk, Orion made sexual advances to Merope. As punishment, King Oenopion had him blinded and banished from the island of Chios.

Orion walked across the sea to the island of Lemnos, where the god Hephaestus had his forge. He earned the sympathy of the god, and there Hephaestus provided him his servant Cedalion who sat upon his shoulders  and acted as his eyes. Cedalion guided him towards the sunrise to the East. This was the place where Helios, the son god, miraculously restored his eyesight upon healing him with his sun rays at dawn.

He then made this way to the island of Crete where met the Greek goddess of the hunt, Artemis. There he hunted with the goddess and her mother, Leto. Setting foot on this island would ultimately lead to his death, although various tales of how Orion died have been told.

It was told that Orion became so enthusiastic and boasted of his hunting skills that he declared he would hunt down every animal on earth. This made the goddess the Earth, Gaea, angry, and so sent forth a giant scorpion that stopped and killed Orion by its poisonous sting. Upon hearing his ill faith, Artemis and Leto asked Zeus, the god of sky and thunder, to place the hunter on the skies. Zeus then formed Orion into a constellation and became one with the stars, as well as the Scorpion that ended him.

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