What Stars Do I See Tonight? Orion, the Hunter

Imagine yourself living many, many years ago in a time when there was no electricity. When night fell, you did not have 
electrical power to light up your home like we do today. Imagine yourself cooking on an open fire outside, and when the fire went out, you looked up to the sky, and saw bright shining stars. Cultures throughout history have looked up at the night sky and wondered about its origins. They made up stories to explain the shapes the stars make in the sky. We call these shapes, constellations. Each constellation is made up of a multitude of stars, each with their own unique story.

Orion begins to rise east in mid-evening from late November to early December. You can see it start to set in the west in mid-spring. Many cultures throughout the ages see this constellation as a hunter, but the Chinook tribe of the Pacific Northwest see it as two canoes chasing after a fish in the river. What some see as Orion’s belt is the big canoe, made up of the three brightest stars closest together. What some see as his sword is the small canoe, just below his belt. The brightest star in Orion is the fish they are chasing after.

The bright red star in the upper righthand corner of the picture is named Betelgeuse. Betelgeuse is a red giant star that is 700 times bigger than our Sun! It will end its life after burning all its fuel of Hydrogen and Helium and explode in a supernova. When it explodes, it will be so bright that we can see it during the day!

The bright blue star in the lower left of the picture is Rigel. It is the brightest star you can see in Orion. Rigel is blue-white in color and is about 75 times bigger than the Sun. The red glow you see in the lower middle of the picture is where you find the famous Orion Nebula. A nebula is a place where stars are born from giant clouds of gas and dust. You can see the nebula with binoculars or a small telescope.

Now that you know all about Orion, go outside on a clear night, look up at the sky and practice finding the constellation and its brightest stars.