Posted June 12, 2009
"Where's Orion?" is a question I often hear at summertime constellation tours. The short answer is "below the horizon."
According to Greek myth, we don't see Orion during our summer nights because that's when his enemy is in the sky. In one version of the story, Orion bragged he was such a mighty hunter he could kill any beast. The gods then sent a scorpion to deliver Orion a fatal sting. Afterwards, the two enemies were placed on opposite sides of the sky, never to meet again. Orion the Hunter graces our winter skies, and Scorpius the Scorpion, the summer.
Orion is a familiar constellation to many, with three bright stars forming his belt, the reddish star Betelgeuse in his shoulder, and bluish-white Rigel in his foot. During our winter, Orion is above the horizon most or all of the night. We also see him in the spring during early evening and in the fall before dawn.
Summer is when Orion hibernates. At this part of Earth's annual orbit, the Sun blocks Orion from view. He is above the horizon almost entirely during the day. (In August, you may glimpse part of him rising in the east just before the Sun.)
To see Orion's enemy, Scorpius, look low in the south on summer evenings for a fairly large pattern of stars shaped like a scorpion. You may prefer to think of the shape as a letter J or a fish hook. The bright reddish star Antares marks the scorpion's heart, and two stars mark the stinger.
For a more formal educational experience about what you can—and can't—see in the sky this season, join us for Starry Summer Nights. This class for ages 16 and up will be held Wednesday evening, June 17, in Morehead Planetarium and Science Center's Star Theater.
A more informal (and free) opportunity to get acquainted with the summer sky happens Saturday, June 27, from 9-11 p.m. Weather permitting, MPSC will host a skywatching session at Jordan Lake's Ebenezer Church Recreation Area. We'll view the Moon and Saturn. Although Orion will be hiding below the horizon perhaps deep in the waters of Jordan Lake, you may see his conqueror, Scorpius, among the stars.