Courtesy of EarthSky
A Clear Voice for Science
At nightfall and early evening, people at mid-northern latitudes 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 will find Orion in the southwest. Above Orion’s Belt, you will find one of the sky’s most famous stars, ruddy-hued Betelgeuse.
Kids especially like Betelgeuse, because its name sounds so much like “beetle juice.” The movie by that same name perpetuated this pronunciation. However, astronomers pronounce it differently. We say BET-el-jews.
People have described this star as ‘somber’ or sometimes ‘grandfatherly.’ That may be because of Betelgeuse’s ruddy complexion, which, as a matter of fact, indicates that this star is well into the autumn of its years. However, Betelgeuse is no ordinary red star. It’s a magnificently rare red supergiant. According to Professor Jim Kaler – whose Stars website you should check out – there might be only one red supergiant star like Betelgeuse for every million or so stars in our Milky Way galaxy.
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.
Orion has another very bright star, called Rigel. Check out this chart to learn more about Rigel.
Written by earthsky