‹‹ Looking Up

Orion the Mighty Hunter

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This is “Looking UP! in southern Colorado,” from the Colorado Springs Astronomical Society. I’m Hal Bidlack, and there are lots of reasons to look up in the night sky right now.

Of the 88 constellations in our sky, one of the brightest and easiest to find is also the most prominent in the winter sky – The constellation Orion

Orion is supposed to look like a mighty hunter, but to most people it looks a lot like a capital letter H. Orion, and the area around it, contains some of the brightest stars in the sky and some amazing other deep sky objects.

Look for Orion rising in the East shortly after sunset, and passing due south of Southern Colorado viewers around 9pm. If you think of Orion as a capital H, use the horizontal part of the H, or the belt of Orion, as a pointer. Follow it down and to the left, and you reach the brightest star  in the sky, Sirius. What is Orion hunting? Take that same line from the belt of Orion up and to the right, and you reach the red star Aldebaran. Aldebaran is the eye in the constellation Taurus the bull, the object of Orion’s hunt .

There are two especially notable stars in Orion. The bottom – right star in the H is the star Rigel. It appears so bright in our sky because it is over 100,000 times brighter than our own sun. The upper left star in the H of Orion is the super red giant star Betelgeuse – a star so big that if it were our sun, its surface would be nearly to the orbit of Jupiter! And keep your eye on Betelgeuse. It is near the end of its very long lifetime of billions of years, and is running out of fuel. Soon, it will collapse and explode as a super nova- one of the most violent explosions that can happen. When Betelgeuse explodes, it will be so bright we’ll see it during daylight for a couple of weeks. Astronomers think it will explode within the next 100,000 years or so, so keep checking on it. Who knows? It might explode tonight? If it does, we are in for quite a show!

Please visit csastro.org for information on lots of interesting things worth looking up for, and to get information on our monthly meetings and our free public star parties in the warmer months.

This is Hal Bidlack for the Colorado Springs Astronomical Society, telling you to keep looking up, Southern Colorado!