Constellations/Sky

Find Orion, 4 stars, and a galaxy

 

This is the 3rd entry in a series about finding constellations. You can also learn to find the Big and Little Dippers, Andromeda, CassiopeiaPegasus,  Taurus and Pleiades, the Winter TriangleDracoGemini,  and Cygnus.

Ever wish you could identify constellations, name stars, or see far away galaxies? It’s easy. Using a few well-known “anchors” I have taught my kids (age 9-3) to find Orion, Taurus, Pleiades, Cassiopeia, the Big and Little Dippers, and Cygnus. On the right night, they can also find the following stars: Sirius, Betelgeuse, Rigel, Vega, and, of course, Polaris. One of our favorite adventures is to go camping and look up at the night sky to find heavenly objects. Here’s a simple “anchor” to help you find several night sky objects:

During the fall, winter, and spring, you can easily spot Orion. (In the summer months, he is invisible because he is around during daylight hours.) Sometimes he is laying down right on the horizon in early evening, other times he is standing near the center of the sky. Most people can locate his belt– three stars of equal brightness evenly spaced. It looks like this:

Orion's Belt. Image from Cheap Astronomy.

Orion’s Belt. Image from Cheap Astronomy.

If you can find Orion’s belt, you have already found 1 constellation. From this “anchor” many other things can be located. First, see those hazy stars that form Orion’s sword hanging down from the belt on the left? The really hazy one is actually the Orion Nebula. It’s a cluster of gas and matter many times larger than our own solar system.

This is Orion. The red star is Betelgeuse. The opposite blue star is Orion. The Orion Nebula is the sword hanging down from his belt. From Constellation Guide via Hubble.

This is Orion. The red star is Betelgeuse. The opposite blue star is Orion. The Orion Nebula is the sword hanging down from his belt. From Constellation Guide via Hubble.

Go down from Orion’s belt to his feet. The bright star there (sixth brightest in the sky) is Rigel. It is easy to remember and spot. Go about the same distance up from the belt. There is Betelgeuse, (pronounced Beetlejuice like that horrible ’80s Michael Keaton movie). It looks like Orion’s head to me, though technically it is his armpit.

Orion is a hunter. He has hunting dogs to help him. Look behind him (he’s facing right, so look to the left of his belt right off the tip of his sword. You should see a very bright star called Sirius (no, serious). Sometimes this star is called the Dog Star. Sirius cannot be seen in this picture (it’s not the semi-bright star at the bottom). Also, the blue star at the top is Bellatrix– if you’re interested.