As the cold winter nights grow longer and longer, the beauty of the sky blossoms forth. The tranquil night air brings a calm to the sky that is unrivaled and the brisk temperatures takes the normally independent activity and brings astronomers together. The beginning of the winter is heralded by the appearance of seven familiar stars over the east in what is one of best star rises of the whole year.
If you happen to find yourself on a clear winter night, look to the east after about nine in the evening. Sitting beautifully over the city is the remarkable constellation of Orion and all of the astronomy wonders that it possesses. Orion is one of the most familiar constellations along with the Big Dipper and the Southern Cross, simply because the stars are so bright, even in the lighter skies over a city. It would have been a tremendous sight, seeing this constellation appear above a bright campfire, even after the rest of the luminous orbs that make the stars were washed out by the comforting light. It still holds this presence today.
Almost every ancient culture recognizes these seven stars as something important; whether it is a deer, a canoe, a flea god, or according to western tradition, a hunter, these stars have stood out prominently in the heavens. As we have been told, Orion is a great hunter who is up in the skies, venerated as a hero after his death by Scorpio. The four bright stars that form a trapezoid are the body as he strikes a hunting stance. The three stars in a row halfway through the constellation make up his belt and hanging down from this is his sword which is made up of the magnificent Orion Nebula.
As mentioned before, Orion is a treasure trove of sights for the amateur astronomer. Stars like Betelgeuse and Rigel stand out as excellent examples of their type and on even the lightest nights, the red emanating from Betelgeuse, a classic red giant, can be differentiated from the white of the other stars. Also within the constellation is the Orion Nebula. This can be found halfway through the sword and is possibly one of the most beautiful sights in the night sky that can be found with a normal telescope. It is within this nebula that larger telescopes such as the Hubble have been able to see stars and planetary systems forming. It is quite possible that our own system formed in such a beautiful nursery.
Peace, and may the stars shine in your skies.
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