Friday, Feb. 6, 2009
At nightfall, people at mid-northern latitudes can see the famous Belt of Orion – three stars in a short, straight row – about halfway between the southern horizon and straight overhead. Later at night, you’ll find Orion in the southwest.
Orion’s Belt lies midway between the Hunter’s two brightest luminaries: ruddy-hued Betelgeuse and blue-white Rigel (the lower right star on the chart).
Kids especially like Betelgeuse (BET-el-jews), because its name sounds so much like “beetle juice.” Perhaps kids like this star, too, because of its friendly grandfatherly presence. Betelgeuse’s ruddy complexion, as a matter of fact, indicates that our stellar friend is well into the autumn of its years. But Betelgeuse is no ordinary red star. It’s a magnificently rare, red supergiant. According to Professor Jim Kaler, there might be only one red supergiant star for every million or so stars in our Milky Way galaxy.
By the way, at this time of year, Betelgeuse’s constellation – Orion the Hunter – ascends to its highest point in the heavens in the evening, symbolically reaching the height of his powers. As night passes – with Earth turning eastward under the stars – Orion has its inevitable “fall,” shifting into the southwestern sky by late evening. Orion slowly heads westward throughout the evening hours and will plunge beneath your western horizon in the wee hours after midnight.