Shop Windows to the Universe

Become a nitrogen atom in the nitrogen cycle in our Traveling Nitrogen Classroom Activity Kit/Game. See all our games, activity kits and classroom activities.
Orion is best seen during the winter in the Northern Hemisphere, and during the summer in the Southern Hemisphere.
Click on image for full size
Windows to the Universe original image


Orion, the Hunter, is by far the most famous seasonal constellation. No other is more distinguishable or bright as this northern winter constellation. The famous Orion's Belt makes the hunter easy to find in the night sky.

Orion looks very much like a person. First, you should spot Orion's Belt, which is made of three bright stars in a straight line. One of Orion's legs is represented by the intensely bright star called Rigel, one of the brightest stars in the night sky. His two shoulders are made of the stars Bellatrix and Betelgeuse. Betelgeuse is so luminant, that you can see its reddish color without a telescope. Other bright stars make up the two arms, one which holds a shield, and another that carries a club.

Many different civilizations saw this constellation in the sky. The most famous stories come from Greek and Roman myths. Orion was a famed hunter, and in one story boasted that no creature could kill him. Hera then sent a scorpion to sting the hunter. Orion smashed the animal with his club, but not before he was fatally poisoned. Both are now on opposite sides of the sky. They cannot be seen at the same time.

A different story tells of the love between Orion and the goddess, Artemis. One day, Orion was swimming out in the sea. Apollo, who very much disliked the man, bet his sister that she couldn't hit the object in the sea with her bow. Artemis didn't realize it was her lover, and shot Orion with an arrow. When she later found out what she had done, she honored the hunter by putting him in the sky.

Other myths come from Egypt and India. The ancient Egyptians believed the stars represented the god Osiris. Ancient Indian mythology says the constellation was called Prajapati. One day, Prajapati was chasing after one of his daughters. The star Sirius was angered by this, and shot an arrow at the lord. The arrow pierced his waist and remains as his belt.

There are several clusters and nebulae to view in this awesome constellation. NGC 2169 is an open cluster located half way up the arm from Betelgeuse. Next door is NGC 2194, a cluster containing about 100 stars. The famous Orion Nebula is located in Orion's sword, which hangs from the belt. It is so bright, that even the naked eye can see the fuzzy patch. It looks spectacular even with a small telescope or binoculars. Another nebula, the Horsehead Nebula, is located right below the belt. Unfortunately, it is too dark to see unless you are looking at a long-exposure photograph. There are numerous other objects in Orion, so scan the constellation with a telescope or binoculars on a clear night!

Shop Windows to the Universe Science Store!

The Summer 2010 issue of The Earth Scientist, available in our online store, includes articles on rivers and snow, classroom planetariums, satellites and oceanography, hands-on astronomy, and global warming.

Windows to the Universe Community



You might also be interested in:


Many cultures have seen distinctive patterns, called constellations, formed by the stars in the heavens. Constellations are usually comprised of bright stars which appear close to each other on the sky,...more

Rigel - Bluish-white Supergiant

What's in a Name: Arabic for "foot" Claim to Fame: One of the galaxy's brightest stars. Apparent visual magnitude = 0.1 Type of Star: Brilliant bluish-white Supergiant (B8 1a Spectral Type) How Far Away:...more

Betelgeuse: The Next Supernova?

What's in a Name: Arabic for "shoulder of the giant". Could also mean "hand of al-jauza" where al-jauza is the Arabs' "Central One". Also known as the Martial Star. Claim to Fame: First star seen as a...more

Sirius A - Brightest Star in the Sky

What's in a Name: Greek for "Scorcher". Also called the "Dog Star". Sirius was not visible in the night sky during the summer months, therefore the Greeks thought that Sirius added its heat to that of...more

Globular Clusters

If you think that this globular cluster looks like a very round elliptical galaxy, you would be right! Elliptical galaxies and globular clusters have a lot in common. There is no gas or dust in a globular...more

Nebulae - The Dust of Stars

Why would we call nebulae stardust? Because the gas of which they are composed both creates and is created by stars. Stars are composed of very dense, high temperature gas. Nebulae are also composed of...more

Northern Hemisphere Constellations

Many different constellations fill the evening sky in the northern hemisphere. Depending on your location and the season, different constellations can be seen. Northern circumpolar constellations can be...more

Southern Hemisphere Constellations

Many different constellations fill the evening sky in the southern hemisphere. Depending on your location and the season, different constellations can be seen. Southern circumpolar constellations can be...more

Windows to the Universe, a project of the National Earth Science Teachers Association, is sponsored in part is sponsored in part through grants from federal agencies (NASA and NOAA), and partnerships with affiliated organizations, including the American Geophysical Union, the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, the Earth System Information Partnership, the American Meteorological Society, the National Center for Science Education, and TERC. The American Geophysical Union and the American Geosciences Institute are Windows to the Universe Founding Partners. NESTA welcomes new Institutional Affiliates in support of our ongoing programs, as well as collaborations on new projects. Contact NESTA for more information. NASA ESIP NCSE HHMI AGU AGI AMS NOAA