Astronomer and naturalist, Jennifer Rupp, has long had a love affair with the stars. Now she gets to share it with you!
It may be so cold your ears, toes and nose protest, but you just can’t beat the clarity of a winter sky for astronomy. The moisture is out of the air, the dust is frozen down, and the nights are long and start plenty early for everyone!
Ever heard of Orion’s belt? That’s what is referred to as an asterism. Asterisms are shapes in the sky that are really easy to find and remember. Another asterism you may be familiar with is the Big Dipper. Do you know in which constellation the stars of the Big Dipper lie?
Orion’s belt is of course in the constellation of Orion. He is the great hunter of the winter sky, and easily visible due to all the bright stars that create his shape. If you really want to impress your friends, find the three stars hanging at almost a 45 degree angle from the middle star of the belt. This is Orion’s sword! If you look closely on a clear night, or have access to a pair of binoculars, you can see that the middle star of the three in his sword is actually not a star at all! It’s a nebula, where stars are being created. You can see all the gas surrounding the baby stars that are just beginning their long, long lives. It is called the Orion Nebula—for obvious reasons.
The stars in Orion are bright enough that they have names. The more yellow-orange colored star on his tallest shoulder is called Betelgeuse. His other shoulder, the yellowish-white one, is called Bellatrix. Do either of these names sound familiar? One more familiar name close by in the night sky is Sirius. It is part of the head of Orion’s hunting dog, Canis Major, and the brightest star in the sky. You can’t miss this white-blue star!
These names may be better known as movie or story characters-and satellite radio providers, but the stars have been around much longer and are worth getting to know as well!