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Earthsky Tonight – Dec 27 2009, Bellatrix – Orion’s third brightest – means ‘Female Warrior’

Courtesy of EarthSky
A Clear Voice for Science

Night Sky, December 27, 2009- Orion [1]
Orion in the night sky, December 27, 2009

The constellation Orion takes center stage this month and rightly so. With an inordinate number of bright stars, it is one of the most prominent constellations in the sky. Look for Orion in the east-southeastern sky from around 6 to 7 p.m.

A while ago, we talked about Orion’s two brightest stars [2], but the third-brightest star in Orion, Bellatrix, is often overlooked. According to Richard Hinckley Allen’s classic book, “Star Names: Their Lore and Meaning,” the Latin name Bellatrix means Female Warrior, which some find odd since the original Arabic title translates as the Conqueror. But we women understand. Bellatrix represents Orion’s left shoulder. Although it appears only as the 22nd brightest star in our heavens, in reality it is a hot, blue giant some 240 light-years [3] away.

Also, look for Saiph, which is the right knee counterpart to Rigel, the left knee in Orion. The four stars, Betelgeuse [4], Rigel [5], Bellatrix and Saiph form the familiar rectangle of Orion. Saiph is a blazing hot supergiant star 720 light years away.

Written by Larry Sessions, Deborah Byrd