Look Up: Orion's Belt
February evenings provide an ideal time for observing the sky's great hunter, Orion. As winter opens and the summer constellations drift out of the night sky, Orion rises in the east appearing higher and higher after nightfall as the months move forward. During the evenings in February, he stands tall in the southern sky. Throughout the night, the constellation will slide toward the west and set after midnight.
Even without optical aid, and under moderately light-polluted skies, the main stars that form the constellation are easy to locate. Three stars that appear equally spaced with a similar appearance form a belt at the figure's waist: Alnitak, Alnilam, and Mintaka. Above them (at least from the perspective of a viewer in the northern hemisphere; in the southern hemisphere, the figure appears inverted) are two "shoulder stars," Betelgeuse and Bellatrix. The two stars at Orion's feet are Saiph and Rigel.
This seemingly simple stick figure includes a vast array of other stars, patterns, and deep sky objects. One beautiful sight that can be discovered using just a pair of binoculars is an open star cluster cataloged as Collinder 70. This group incorporates the three belt stars and contains more than 100 stars.
Pier Press seeks to facilitate informed conversation at the intersection of science and spirit by promoting Biblical and scientific literacy. This article, along with links to resources for learning more, appeared in the February 17, 2017 issue of Observations: A Pier Press® newsletter. Subscribe today to have future issues delivered directly to your inbox.