Orion (constellation)
Overview
 
Orion, often referred to as The Hunter, is a prominent constellation
Constellation
In modern astronomy, a constellation is an internationally defined area of the celestial sphere. These areas are grouped around asterisms, patterns formed by prominent stars within apparent proximity to one another on Earth's night sky....

 located on the celestial equator
Celestial equator
The celestial equator is a great circle on the imaginary celestial sphere, in the same plane as the Earth's equator. In other words, it is a projection of the terrestrial equator out into space...

 and visible throughout the world. It is one of the most conspicuous, and most recognizable constellations in the night sky. Its name refers to Orion
Orion (mythology)
Orion was a giant huntsman in Greek mythology whom Zeus placed among the stars as the constellation of Orion....

, a hunter in Greek mythology
Greek mythology
Greek mythology is the body of myths and legends belonging to the ancient Greeks, concerning their gods and heroes, the nature of the world, and the origins and significance of their own cult and ritual practices. They were a part of religion in ancient Greece...

.
Orion includes the prominent asterism
Asterism (astronomy)
In astronomy, an asterism is a pattern of stars recognized on Earth's night sky. It may form part of an official constellation, or be composed of stars from more than one. Like constellations, asterisms are in most cases composed of stars which, while they are visible in the same general direction,...

 known as the Belt of Orion
Orion's Belt
The term Orion's Belt or the Belt of Orion may refer to:* Orion's Belt, an asterism consisting of three bright stars in a row in the constellation Orion* Orion's Belt, a 1985 film* Orion's Belt, a browser game...

: three bright stars in a row. Surrounding the belt at roughly similar distances are four bright stars, which are considered to represent the outline of the hunter's body.
Encyclopedia
Orion, often referred to as The Hunter, is a prominent constellation
Constellation
In modern astronomy, a constellation is an internationally defined area of the celestial sphere. These areas are grouped around asterisms, patterns formed by prominent stars within apparent proximity to one another on Earth's night sky....

 located on the celestial equator
Celestial equator
The celestial equator is a great circle on the imaginary celestial sphere, in the same plane as the Earth's equator. In other words, it is a projection of the terrestrial equator out into space...

 and visible throughout the world. It is one of the most conspicuous, and most recognizable constellations in the night sky. Its name refers to Orion
Orion (mythology)
Orion was a giant huntsman in Greek mythology whom Zeus placed among the stars as the constellation of Orion....

, a hunter in Greek mythology
Greek mythology
Greek mythology is the body of myths and legends belonging to the ancient Greeks, concerning their gods and heroes, the nature of the world, and the origins and significance of their own cult and ritual practices. They were a part of religion in ancient Greece...

.

Visualizations

Orion includes the prominent asterism
Asterism (astronomy)
In astronomy, an asterism is a pattern of stars recognized on Earth's night sky. It may form part of an official constellation, or be composed of stars from more than one. Like constellations, asterisms are in most cases composed of stars which, while they are visible in the same general direction,...

 known as the Belt of Orion
Orion's Belt
The term Orion's Belt or the Belt of Orion may refer to:* Orion's Belt, an asterism consisting of three bright stars in a row in the constellation Orion* Orion's Belt, a 1985 film* Orion's Belt, a browser game...

: three bright stars in a row. Surrounding the belt at roughly similar distances are four bright stars, which are considered to represent the outline of the hunter's body. Descending from the 'belt' is a smaller line of three stars (the middle of which is in fact not a star but the Orion Nebula
Orion Nebula
The Orion Nebula is a diffuse nebula situated south of Orion's Belt. It is one of the brightest nebulae, and is visible to the naked eye in the night sky. M42 is located at a distance of and is the closest region of massive star formation to Earth. The M42 nebula is estimated to be 24 light...

), known as the hunter's 'sword'.

In artistic renderings, the surrounding constellations are sometimes related to Orion: he is depicted standing next to the river Eridanus
Eridanus (constellation)
Eridanus is a constellation. It is represented as a river; its name is the Ancient Greek name for the Po River. It was one of the 48 constellations listed by the 2nd century astronomer Ptolemy, and it remains one of the 88 modern constellations. It is the sixth largest of the modern...

 with his two hunting dogs Canis Major
Canis Major
Canis Major is one of the 88 modern constellations, and was included in the 2nd-century astronomer Ptolemy's 48 constellations. Its name is Latin for 'greater dog', and is commonly represented as one of the dogs following Orion the hunter...

 and Canis Minor
Canis Minor
Canis Minor is a small constellation. It was included in the 2nd century astronomer Ptolemy's 48 constellations, and is still included among the 88 modern constellations...

, fighting Taurus
Taurus (constellation)
Taurus is one of the constellations of the zodiac. Its name is a Latin word meaning 'bull', and its astrological symbol is a stylized bull's head:...

 the bull. He is sometimes depicted hunting Lepus
Lepus (constellation)
Lepus is a constellation lying just south of the celestial equator, immediately south of Orion. Its name is Latin for hare. Although the hare does not represent any particular figure in Greek mythology, Lepus was one of the 48 constellations listed by the 2nd century astronomer Ptolemy, and it...

 the hare
Hare
Hares and jackrabbits are leporids belonging to the genus Lepus. Hares less than one year old are called leverets. Four species commonly known as types of hare are classified outside of Lepus: the hispid hare , and three species known as red rock hares .Hares are very fast-moving...

. He also sometimes is depicted to have a lion in his hand.

There are alternative ways to visualize Orion. From the Southern Hemisphere
Southern Hemisphere
The Southern Hemisphere is the part of Earth that lies south of the equator. The word hemisphere literally means 'half ball' or "half sphere"...

, Orion is oriented differently, and the belt and sword
Sword
A sword is a bladed weapon used primarily for cutting or thrusting. The precise definition of the term varies with the historical epoch or the geographical region under consideration...

 are sometimes called the Saucepan, or Pot in Australia
Australia
Australia , officially the Commonwealth of Australia, is a country in the Southern Hemisphere comprising the mainland of the Australian continent, the island of Tasmania, and numerous smaller islands in the Indian and Pacific Oceans. It is the world's sixth-largest country by total area...

/New Zealand
New Zealand
New Zealand is an island country in the south-western Pacific Ocean comprising two main landmasses and numerous smaller islands. The country is situated some east of Australia across the Tasman Sea, and roughly south of the Pacific island nations of New Caledonia, Fiji, and Tonga...

. Orion's Belt
Orion's Belt
The term Orion's Belt or the Belt of Orion may refer to:* Orion's Belt, an asterism consisting of three bright stars in a row in the constellation Orion* Orion's Belt, a 1985 film* Orion's Belt, a browser game...

 is called Drie Konings (Three Kings) or the Drie Susters (Three Sisters) by Afrikaans speakers in South Africa, and are referred to as les Trois Rois (the Three Kings) in Daudet
Alphonse Daudet
Alphonse Daudet was a French novelist. He was the father of Léon Daudet and Lucien Daudet.- Early life :Alphonse Daudet was born in Nîmes, France. His family, on both sides, belonged to the bourgeoisie. The father, Vincent Daudet, was a silk manufacturer — a man dogged through life by misfortune...

's Lettres de Mon Moulin (1866). The appellation Driekoningen (the Three Kings) is also often found in 17th- and 18th-century Dutch star charts and seaman's guides. The same three stars are known in Spain
Spain
Spain , officially the Kingdom of Spain languages]] under the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages. In each of these, Spain's official name is as follows:;;;;;;), is a country and member state of the European Union located in southwestern Europe on the Iberian Peninsula...

 and Latin America as "Las Tres Marías" (Spanish for "The Three Marys
The Three Marys
The Three Marys are the three biblical Marys who came to the sepulchre of Jesus in the Gospels and were companions of Mary, the mother of Jesus. In Eastern Orthodoxy they are among the Myrrhbearers, traditionally including a larger number of people. All four gospels mention the women going to the...

").

Visibility

Orion can be easily seen in the night sky from November to February of each year - late fall to winter in the Northern Hemisphere, late spring to summer in the Southern Hemisphere. In the tropics (less than about 8° from the equator) the constellation transits at the zenith.

In the period May–July (summer in the Northern Hemisphere, winter in the Southern Hemisphere) Orion is in the daytime sky and thus not visible at most latitudes. However for much of Antarctica in the Southern Hemisphere's winter months, the Sun is below the horizon
Horizon
The horizon is the apparent line that separates earth from sky, the line that divides all visible directions into two categories: those that intersect the Earth's surface, and those that do not. At many locations, the true horizon is obscured by trees, buildings, mountains, etc., and the resulting...

 even at midday. Stars (and thus Orion) are then visible at twilight for a few hours around local noon, low in the North. At the same time of day at the South Pole itself (Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station
Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station
The Amundsen–Scott South Pole Station is the American scientific research station on the high plateau of Antarctica. This station is located at the southernmost place on the Earth, the Geographic South Pole, at an elevation of 2,835 meters above sea level.The original Amundsen-Scott Station was...

), Rigel is only 8° above the horizon and the Belt sweeps just along it. In the Southern Hemisphere's summer months, when Orion is normally visible in the night sky, the constellation is actually not visible in Antarctica because the sun does not set at that time of year south of the Antarctic Circle.

Navigational aid

Orion is very useful as an aid to locating other stars. By extending the line of the Belt southeastward, Sirius
Sirius
Sirius is the brightest star in the night sky. With a visual apparent magnitude of −1.46, it is almost twice as bright as Canopus, the next brightest star. The name "Sirius" is derived from the Ancient Greek: Seirios . The star has the Bayer designation Alpha Canis Majoris...

 (α CMa
Canis Major
Canis Major is one of the 88 modern constellations, and was included in the 2nd-century astronomer Ptolemy's 48 constellations. Its name is Latin for 'greater dog', and is commonly represented as one of the dogs following Orion the hunter...

) can be found; northwestward, Aldebaran
Aldebaran
Aldebaran is a red giant star located about 65 light years away in the zodiac constellation of Taurus. With an average apparent magnitude of 0.87 it is the brightest star in the constellation and is one of the brightest stars in the nighttime sky...

 (α Tau
Taurus (constellation)
Taurus is one of the constellations of the zodiac. Its name is a Latin word meaning 'bull', and its astrological symbol is a stylized bull's head:...

). A line eastward across the two shoulders indicates the direction of Procyon
Procyon
Procyon is the brightest star in the constellation Canis Minor. To the naked eye, it appears to be a single star, the seventh brightest in the night sky with a visual apparent magnitude of 0.34...

 (α CMi
Canis Minor
Canis Minor is a small constellation. It was included in the 2nd century astronomer Ptolemy's 48 constellations, and is still included among the 88 modern constellations...

). A line from Rigel
Rigel
Rigel is the brightest star in the constellation Orion and the sixth brightest star in the sky, with visual magnitude 0.18...

 through Betelgeuse
Betelgeuse
Betelgeuse, also known by its Bayer designation Alpha Orionis , is the eighth brightest star in the night sky and second brightest star in the constellation of Orion, outshining its neighbour Rigel only rarely...

 points to Castor
Castor (star)
Castor is the second brightest star in the constellation Gemini and one of the brightest stars in the night sky. Although it has the Bayer designation "alpha", it is actually fainter than Beta Geminorum...

 and Pollux
Pollux (star)
Pollux is an orange giant star approximately 34 light-years from the Earth in the constellation of Gemini . Pollux is the brightest star in the constellation, brighter than Castor...

 (α Gem
Gemini (constellation)
Gemini is one of the constellations of the zodiac. It was one of the 48 constellations described by the 2nd century astronomer Ptolemy and it remains one of the 88 modern constellations today. Its name is Latin for "twins", and it is associated with the twins Castor and Pollux in Greek mythology...

 and β Gem). Additionally, Rigel is part of the Winter Circle
Winter Hexagon
The Winter Hexagon or Winter Circle/Oval is an asterism appearing to be in the form of a hexagon with vertices at Rigel, Aldebaran, Capella, Pollux/Castor, Procyon, and Sirius. It is mostly upon the Northern Hemisphere's celestial sphere...

. Sirius and Procyon
Procyon
Procyon is the brightest star in the constellation Canis Minor. To the naked eye, it appears to be a single star, the seventh brightest in the night sky with a visual apparent magnitude of 0.34...

, which may be located from Orion by following imaginary lines (see map), also are points in both the Winter Triangle and the Circle.

Stars

  • Betelgeuse
    Betelgeuse
    Betelgeuse, also known by its Bayer designation Alpha Orionis , is the eighth brightest star in the night sky and second brightest star in the constellation of Orion, outshining its neighbour Rigel only rarely...

    , known alternatively by its Bayer designation
    Bayer designation
    A Bayer designation is a stellar designation in which a specific star is identified by a Greek letter, followed by the genitive form of its parent constellation's Latin name...

     Alpha Orionis, is a massive M-type red supergiant
    Supergiant
    Supergiants are among the most massive stars. They occupy the top region of the Hertzsprung-Russell diagram. In the Yerkes spectral classification, supergiants are class Ia or Ib . They typically have bolometric absolute magnitudes between -5 and -12...

     star nearing the end of its life. When it explodes it will even be visible during the day. It is the second brightest star in Orion, and is a semiregular variable star. It serves as the "right shoulder" of the hunter it represents (assuming that he is facing the observer), and is the eighth brightest star in the night sky.

  • Rigel
    Rigel
    Rigel is the brightest star in the constellation Orion and the sixth brightest star in the sky, with visual magnitude 0.18...

    , which is also known as Beta Orionis, is a B-type blue supergiant that is the sixth brightest star in the night sky. Similar to Betelguese, Rigel is fusing
    Nuclear fusion
    Nuclear fusion is the process by which two or more atomic nuclei join together, or "fuse", to form a single heavier nucleus. This is usually accompanied by the release or absorption of large quantities of energy...

     heavy elements in its core and will pass its supergiant
    Supergiant
    Supergiants are among the most massive stars. They occupy the top region of the Hertzsprung-Russell diagram. In the Yerkes spectral classification, supergiants are class Ia or Ib . They typically have bolometric absolute magnitudes between -5 and -12...

     stage soon (on an astronomical timescale), either collapsing in the case of a supernova
    Supernova
    A supernova is a stellar explosion that is more energetic than a nova. It is pronounced with the plural supernovae or supernovas. Supernovae are extremely luminous and cause a burst of radiation that often briefly outshines an entire galaxy, before fading from view over several weeks or months...

     or shedding its outer layers and turning into a white dwarf
    White dwarf
    A white dwarf, also called a degenerate dwarf, is a small star composed mostly of electron-degenerate matter. They are very dense; a white dwarf's mass is comparable to that of the Sun and its volume is comparable to that of the Earth. Its faint luminosity comes from the emission of stored...

    . It serves as the left foot of Orion, the hunter.

  • Bellatrix
    Gamma Orionis
    Bellatrix, also known by its Bayer designation Gamma Orionis , is the third brightest star in the constellation Orion, the twenty-seventh brightest star in the night sky, and one of the brightest second-magnitude stars....

    was designated Gamma Orionis by Johann Bayer
    Johann Bayer
    Johann Bayer was a German lawyer and uranographer . He was born in Rain, Bavaria, in 1572. He began his study of philosophy in Ingolstadt in 1592, and moved later to Augsburg to begin work as a lawyer. He grew interested in astronomy during his time in Augsburg...

    , but is known colloquially as the "Amazon Star". It is the twenty-second brightest star in the night sky. Bellatrix is considered a B-type blue giant, though it is too small to explode in a supernova
    Supernova
    A supernova is a stellar explosion that is more energetic than a nova. It is pronounced with the plural supernovae or supernovas. Supernovae are extremely luminous and cause a burst of radiation that often briefly outshines an entire galaxy, before fading from view over several weeks or months...

    . Bellatrix's luminosity is derived from its high temperature rather than its radius, a factor that defines Betelgeuse. Bellatrix serves as Orion's left shoulder.

  • Mintaka
    Delta Orionis
    Delta Orionis , traditionally known as Mintaka , is a star some 900 light years distant in the constellation Orion. Together with Zeta Orionis and Epsilon Orionis , the three stars make up the belt of Orion, known by many names across many ancient cultures...

    garnered the name Delta Orionis from Bayer, even though it is the faintest of the three stars in Orion's Belt
    Orion's Belt
    The term Orion's Belt or the Belt of Orion may refer to:* Orion's Belt, an asterism consisting of three bright stars in a row in the constellation Orion* Orion's Belt, a 1985 film* Orion's Belt, a browser game...

    . It is a multiple star system, composed of a large B-type blue giant and a more massive O-type white star. The Mintaka system constitutes an eclipsing binary variable star, where the eclipse of one star over the other creates a dip in brightness. Mintaka is the westernmost of the three stars of Orion's Belt.

  • Alnilam
    Epsilon Orionis
    Alnilam is a large blue supergiant star in the constellation of Orion. Its Flamsteed designation is 46 Orionis....

    was named Epsilon Orionis, a consequence of Bayer's wish to name the three stars in Orion's Belt (from north to south) in alphabetical order. Alnilam is a B-type blue supergiant; despite being nearly twice as far from the Sun as Mintaka
    Delta Orionis
    Delta Orionis , traditionally known as Mintaka , is a star some 900 light years distant in the constellation Orion. Together with Zeta Orionis and Epsilon Orionis , the three stars make up the belt of Orion, known by many names across many ancient cultures...

     and Alnitak, the other two belt stars, its luminosity makes it nearly equal in magnitude. Alnilam is losing mass quickly, a consequence of its size; it is approximately four million years old.

  • Alnitak was designated Zeta Orionis by Bayer, and is the easternmost star in Orion's Belt. It is a triple star
    Multiple star
    A multiple star consists of three or more stars which appear from the Earth to be close to one another in the sky. This may result from the stars being physically close and gravitationally bound to each other, in which case it is physical, or this closeness may be merely apparent, in which case...

     some 800 light years distant, with the primary star being a hot blue supergiant
    Blue supergiant
    Blue supergiants are supergiant stars of spectral type O or B.They are extremely hot and bright, with surface temperatures of 30,000-50,000 K. They typically have 10 to 50 solar masses on the Hertzsprung-Russell diagram, and can have radii up to about 25 solar radii...

     and the brightest class O star
    Star
    A star is a massive, luminous sphere of plasma held together by gravity. At the end of its lifetime, a star can also contain a proportion of degenerate matter. The nearest star to Earth is the Sun, which is the source of most of the energy on Earth...

     in the night sky.

  • Saiph was designated Kappa Orionis by Bayer, and serves as Orion's right foot. It is of a similar distance and size to Rigel, but appears much fainter, as its hot surface temperature (46,000°F or 26,000°C) causes it to emit most of its light in the ultraviolet
    Ultraviolet
    Ultraviolet light is electromagnetic radiation with a wavelength shorter than that of visible light, but longer than X-rays, in the range 10 nm to 400 nm, and energies from 3 eV to 124 eV...

     region of the spectrum.


Of the lesser stars, Hatsya (or Iota Orionis) forms the tip of Orion's sword, whilst Meissa (or Lambda Orionis) forms Orion's head. In common with many other bright stars, the names Betelgeuse, Rigel, Saiph, Alnitak, Mintaka, Alnilam, Hatsya and Meissa originate from the Arabic language
Arabic language
Arabic is a name applied to the descendants of the Classical Arabic language of the 6th century AD, used most prominently in the Quran, the Islamic Holy Book...

.
Proper
Name
Solar Radii Apparent
Magnitude
~Distance
(L Yrs)
  Betelgeuse      667       0.43    643
  Rigel      78       0.18    772
  Bellatrix
Gamma Orionis
Bellatrix, also known by its Bayer designation Gamma Orionis , is the third brightest star in the constellation Orion, the twenty-seventh brightest star in the night sky, and one of the brightest second-magnitude stars....

 
    7.0       1.62    243
  Mintaka
Delta Orionis
Delta Orionis , traditionally known as Mintaka , is a star some 900 light years distant in the constellation Orion. Together with Zeta Orionis and Epsilon Orionis , the three stars make up the belt of Orion, known by many names across many ancient cultures...

 
    ?       2.23 (3.2/3.3) / 6.85 / 14.0    900
  Alnilam
Epsilon Orionis
Alnilam is a large blue supergiant star in the constellation of Orion. Its Flamsteed designation is 46 Orionis....

 
    26       1.68    1359
  Alnitak      ?       1.70/~4/4.21    800
  Saiph
Kappa Orionis
Kappa Orionis is the sixth-brightest star in the constellation of Orion. It has the traditional name Saiph.Of the four bright stars that compose Orion's main quadrangle, it is the star at the south-eastern corner...

 
    11       2.06    724

Belt

Orion Constellation Map
Closeup Image of Orion Belt

Orion's Belt or The Belt of Orion is an asterism
Asterism (astronomy)
In astronomy, an asterism is a pattern of stars recognized on Earth's night sky. It may form part of an official constellation, or be composed of stars from more than one. Like constellations, asterisms are in most cases composed of stars which, while they are visible in the same general direction,...

 within the constellation. It consists of the three bright stars ζ Ori (Alnitak), ε Ori
Epsilon Orionis
Alnilam is a large blue supergiant star in the constellation of Orion. Its Flamsteed designation is 46 Orionis....

 (Alnilam), and δ Ori
Delta Orionis
Delta Orionis , traditionally known as Mintaka , is a star some 900 light years distant in the constellation Orion. Together with Zeta Orionis and Epsilon Orionis , the three stars make up the belt of Orion, known by many names across many ancient cultures...

 (Mintaka). Alnitak is approximately 800 light years away from earth and, including ultraviolet radiation, which the human eye cannot see, Alnitak is 100,000 times more luminous than the Sun
Sun
The Sun is the star at the center of the Solar System. It is almost perfectly spherical and consists of hot plasma interwoven with magnetic fields...

. Alnilam is approximately 1340 light years away from Earth, shines with magnitude 1.70, and with ultraviolet light is 375,000 times more luminous than the Sun. Mintaka is 915 light years away and shines with magnitude 2.21. It is 90,000 times more luminous than the Sun and is a double star: the two orbit each other every 5.73 days.
Looking for Orion's Belt in the night sky is the easiest way to locate the constellation
Constellation
In modern astronomy, a constellation is an internationally defined area of the celestial sphere. These areas are grouped around asterisms, patterns formed by prominent stars within apparent proximity to one another on Earth's night sky....

. In the Northern Hemisphere, Orion's Belt is best visible in the night sky during the month of January around 9:00 pm, when it is approximately around the local meridian
Meridian (astronomy)
This article is about the astronomical concept. For other uses of the word, see Meridian.In the sky, a meridian is an imaginary great circle on the celestial sphere. It passes through the north point on the horizon, through the celestial pole, up to the zenith, through the south point on the...

.


Meteor showers

Around October 21 each year the Orionid meteor shower reaches its peak. Coming from the border with the constellation Gemini as many as 20 meteors per hour can be seen.

Deep sky objects

Hanging from Orion's belt is his sword, consisting of the multiple stars θ1 and θ2 Orionis, called the Trapezium
Trapezium (astronomy)
The Trapezium, or Orion Trapezium Cluster is a tight open cluster of stars in the heart of the Orion Nebula, in the constellation of Orion. It was discovered by Galileo Galilei. On February 4, 1617 he sketched three of the stars , but missed the surrounding nebulosity...

 and the Orion Nebula
Orion Nebula
The Orion Nebula is a diffuse nebula situated south of Orion's Belt. It is one of the brightest nebulae, and is visible to the naked eye in the night sky. M42 is located at a distance of and is the closest region of massive star formation to Earth. The M42 nebula is estimated to be 24 light...

 (M42). This is a spectacular object which can be clearly identified with the naked eye as something other than a star. Using binoculars, its clouds of nascent stars, luminous gas, and dust can be observed.

Another famous nebula
Nebula
A nebula is an interstellar cloud of dust, hydrogen gas, helium gas and other ionized gases...

 is IC
Index Catalogue
The Index Catalogue —also known as the Index Catalogue of Nebulae, the Index Catalogue of Nebulae and Clusters of Stars, IC I, or IC II— is a catalogue of galaxies, nebulae and star clusters that serves as a supplement to the New General Catalogue...

 434, the Horsehead Nebula
Horsehead Nebula
The Horsehead Nebula is a dark nebula in the constellation Orion. The nebula is located just to the south of the star Alnitak, which is farthest east on Orion's Belt, and is part of the much larger Orion Molecular Cloud Complex. The Horsehead Nebula is approximately 1500 light years from Earth...

, near ζ Orionis. It contains a dark dust cloud whose shape gives the nebula its name.

Besides these nebulae, surveying Orion with a small telescope
Telescope
A telescope is an instrument that aids in the observation of remote objects by collecting electromagnetic radiation . The first known practical telescopes were invented in the Netherlands at the beginning of the 1600s , using glass lenses...

 will reveal a wealth of interesting deep-sky objects, including M43, M78
Messier 78
The nebula Messier 78 is a reflection nebula in the constellation Orion. It was discovered by Pierre Méchain in 1780 and included by Charles Messier in his catalog of comet-like objects that same year....

, as well as multiple stars including Iota Orionis
Iota Orionis
Iota Orionis is the brightest star in Orion's sword, and is located at the tip of the sword. It has the traditional names Hatsya , or in Arabic, Na’ir al Saif, which means simply "the Bright One of the Sword."+-9*Iota Orionis is a quadruple system dominated by a massive spectroscopic binary with an...

 and Sigma Orionis
Sigma Orionis
Sigma Orionis or Sigma Ori is a five-star system in the constellation Orion. It is approximately 1,150 light years from Earth....

. A larger telescope may reveal objects such as Barnard's Loop
Barnard's Loop
Barnard's Loop is an emission nebula in the constellation of Orion. It is part of a Orion Molecular Cloud Complex which also contains the bright Horsehead and Orion nebulae. The loop takes the form of a large arc centred approximately on the Orion Nebula...

 and the Flame Nebula
Flame Nebula
The Flame Nebula, designated as NGC 2024 and Sh2-277, is an emission nebula in the constellation Orion. It is about 900 to 1,500 light-years away....

 (NGC 2024), as well as fainter and tighter multiple stars and nebulae.

All of these nebulae are part of the larger Orion Molecular Cloud Complex
Orion Molecular Cloud Complex
The Orion Molecular Cloud Complex refers to a large group of bright nebula, dark clouds, and young stars located in the constellation of Orion. The cloud itself is between 1,500 and 1,600 light-years away and is hundreds of light-years across...

, which is located approximately 1,500 light-years away and is hundreds of light-years across. It is one of the most intense regions of stellar formation visible in our galaxy.

Cultural significance

The distinctive pattern of Orion has been recognized in numerous world cultures, and many myths have been associated with it. It has also been used as a symbol in the modern world.

Ancient Near East

The Babylonian star catalogues
Babylonian star catalogues
Babylonian astronomy collated earlier observations and divinations into sets of Babylonian star catalogues, during and after the Kassite rule over Babylonia. These star catalogues, written in cuneiform script, contained lists of constellations, individual stars, and planets...

 of the Late Bronze Age name Orion , "The Heavenly Shepherd" or "True Shepherd of Anu" - Anu being the chief god of the heavenly realms. The Babylonian constellation was sacred to Papshukal and Ninshubur, both minor gods fulfilling the role of 'messenger to the gods'. Papshukal was closely associated with the figure of a walking bird on Babylonian boundary stones, and on the star map the figure of the Rooster was located below and behind the figure of the True Shepherd.

The stars of Orion were associated with Osiris
Osiris
Osiris is an Egyptian god, usually identified as the god of the afterlife, the underworld and the dead. He is classically depicted as a green-skinned man with a pharaoh's beard, partially mummy-wrapped at the legs, wearing a distinctive crown with two large ostrich feathers at either side, and...

, the sun-god of rebirth and afterlife, by the ancient Egyptians.

Orion has also been identified with the last Egyptian
Ancient Egypt
Ancient Egypt was an ancient civilization of Northeastern Africa, concentrated along the lower reaches of the Nile River in what is now the modern country of Egypt. Egyptian civilization coalesced around 3150 BC with the political unification of Upper and Lower Egypt under the first pharaoh...

 Pharaoh
Pharaoh
Pharaoh is a title used in many modern discussions of the ancient Egyptian rulers of all periods. The title originates in the term "pr-aa" which means "great house" and describes the royal palace...

 of the Fifth Dynasty called Unas
Unas
Unas was a Pharaoh of Ancient Egypt, and the last ruler of the Fifth dynasty from the Old Kingdom. His reign has been dated as falling between 2375 BC and 2345 BC...

 who, according to the Pyramid Texts
Pyramid Texts
The Pyramid Texts are a collection of ancient Egyptian religious texts from the time of the Old Kingdom. The pyramid texts are possibly the oldest known religious texts in the world. Written in Old Egyptian, the pyramid texts were carved on the walls and sarcophagi of the pyramids at Saqqara during...

, became great by eating the flesh of his mortal enemies and then slaying and devouring the gods themselves. This was based on a belief in contiguous magic whereby consuming the flesh of great people would bring inheritance of their power. After devouring the gods and absorbing their spirits and powers, Unas journeys through the day and night sky to become the star Sabu, or Orion. The Pyramid Texts
Pyramid Texts
The Pyramid Texts are a collection of ancient Egyptian religious texts from the time of the Old Kingdom. The pyramid texts are possibly the oldest known religious texts in the world. Written in Old Egyptian, the pyramid texts were carved on the walls and sarcophagi of the pyramids at Saqqara during...

also show that the dead Pharaoh was identified with the god Osiris, whose form in the stars was often said to be the constellation Orion.

The Bible
Bible
The Bible refers to any one of the collections of the primary religious texts of Judaism and Christianity. There is no common version of the Bible, as the individual books , their contents and their order vary among denominations...

 mentions Orion three times, naming it "Kesil" (כסיל, brute, strong): Job
Book of Job
The Book of Job , commonly referred to simply as Job, is one of the books of the Hebrew Bible. It relates the story of Job, his trials at the hands of Satan, his discussions with friends on the origins and nature of his suffering, his challenge to God, and finally a response from God. The book is a...

 9:9 ("He is the maker of the Bear and Orion"), Job
Book of Job
The Book of Job , commonly referred to simply as Job, is one of the books of the Hebrew Bible. It relates the story of Job, his trials at the hands of Satan, his discussions with friends on the origins and nature of his suffering, his challenge to God, and finally a response from God. The book is a...

 38:31 ("Can you loosen Orion`s belt?"), and Amos
Book of Amos
The Book of Amos is a prophetic book of the Hebrew Bible, one of the Twelve Minor Prophets. Amos, an older contemporary of Hosea and Isaiah, was active c. 750 BCE during the reign of Jeroboam II, making the Book of Amos the first biblical prophetic book written. Amos lived in the kingdom of Judah...

 5:8 ("He who made the Pleiades
Pleiades (star cluster)
In astronomy, the Pleiades, or Seven Sisters , is an open star cluster containing middle-aged hot B-type stars located in the constellation of Taurus. It is among the nearest star clusters to Earth and is the cluster most obvious to the naked eye in the night sky...

 and Orion").
In ancient Aram
Aram (Biblical region)
Aram is the name of a region mentioned in the Bible located in central Syria, including where the city of Aleppo now stands.-Etymology:The etymology is uncertain. One standard explanation is an original meaning of "highlands"...

, the constellation was known as Nephila, Orion's descendants were known as Nephilim
Nephilim
The Nephilim are the offspring of the "sons of God" and the "daughters of men" in Genesis 6:4, or giants who inhabit Canaan in Numbers 13:33. A similar word with different vowel-sounds is used in Ezekiel 32:27 to refer to dead Philistine warriors....

.

Greco-Roman antiquity

Orion's current name derives from Greek mythology
Greek mythology
Greek mythology is the body of myths and legends belonging to the ancient Greeks, concerning their gods and heroes, the nature of the world, and the origins and significance of their own cult and ritual practices. They were a part of religion in ancient Greece...

, in which Orion
Orion (mythology)
Orion was a giant huntsman in Greek mythology whom Zeus placed among the stars as the constellation of Orion....

 was a gigantic hunter of primordial times. Some of these myths relate to the constellation; one story tells that Orion was killed by a giant scorpion
Scorpion
Scorpions are predatory arthropod animals of the order Scorpiones within the class Arachnida. They have eight legs and are easily recognized by the pair of grasping claws and the narrow, segmented tail, often carried in a characteristic forward curve over the back, ending with a venomous stinger...

; the gods raised him and the Scorpion to the skies, as Scorpio
Scorpio (astrology)
|Infobox align="right" style="border:3px solid white;"||style="text-align: center;"|Scorpio is the eighth astrological sign in the Zodiac, which spans the zodiac between the 210th and 239th degree of celestial longitude. Generally, the Sun transits this area of the zodiac between 24 October and...

/Scorpius. Yet other stories say Orion was chasing the Pleiades
Pleiades (Greek mythology)
The Pleiades , companions of Artemis, were the seven daughters of the titan Atlas and the sea-nymph Pleione born on Mount Cyllene. They are the sisters of Calypso, Hyas, the Hyades, and the Hesperides...

.

The constellation is mentioned in Horace
Horace
Quintus Horatius Flaccus , known in the English-speaking world as Horace, was the leading Roman lyric poet during the time of Augustus.-Life:...

's Ode
Ode
Ode is a type of lyrical verse. A classic ode is structured in three major parts: the strophe, the antistrophe, and the epode. Different forms such as the homostrophic ode and the irregular ode also exist...

s
, Homer
Homer
In the Western classical tradition Homer , is the author of the Iliad and the Odyssey, and is revered as the greatest ancient Greek epic poet. These epics lie at the beginning of the Western canon of literature, and have had an enormous influence on the history of literature.When he lived is...

's Odyssey
Odyssey
The Odyssey is one of two major ancient Greek epic poems attributed to Homer. It is, in part, a sequel to the Iliad, the other work ascribed to Homer. The poem is fundamental to the modern Western canon, and is the second—the Iliad being the first—extant work of Western literature...

(Book 5, line 283) and Iliad
Iliad
The Iliad is an epic poem in dactylic hexameters, traditionally attributed to Homer. Set during the Trojan War, the ten-year siege of the city of Troy by a coalition of Greek states, it tells of the battles and events during the weeks of a quarrel between King Agamemnon and the warrior Achilles...

, and Virgil
Virgil
Publius Vergilius Maro, usually called Virgil or Vergil in English , was an ancient Roman poet of the Augustan period. He is known for three major works of Latin literature, the Eclogues , the Georgics, and the epic Aeneid...

's Aeneid
Aeneid
The Aeneid is a Latin epic poem, written by Virgil between 29 and 19 BC, that tells the legendary story of Aeneas, a Trojan who travelled to Italy, where he became the ancestor of the Romans. It is composed of roughly 10,000 lines in dactylic hexameter...

(Book 1, line 535)

Middle East

In medieval Muslim astronomy, Orion was known as al-jabbar "the giant".

Asian antiquity

In China
China
Chinese civilization may refer to:* China for more general discussion of the country.* Chinese culture* Greater China, the transnational community of ethnic Chinese.* History of China* Sinosphere, the area historically affected by Chinese culture...

, Orion was one of the 28 lunar mansions
Twenty-eight mansions
The Twenty-eight Mansions , ', ' or ' are part of the Chinese constellations system. They can be considered as the equivalent to the zodiacal constellations in the Western astronomy, though the Twenty-eight Mansions reflect the movement of the Moon in a lunar month rather than the Sun in a solar year...

 Sieu (Xiu) (宿). Known as Shen (參)
Three Stars (Chinese constellation)
The Three Stars mansion is one of the twenty-eight mansions of the Chinese constellations. It is one of the western mansions of the White Tiger. This collection of seven bright stars is visible during winter in the Northern Hemisphere .- Asterisms :...

, literally meaning "three", it is believed to be named so for the three stars located in Orion's belt. (See Chinese constellations)

The Chinese character
Chinese character
Chinese characters are logograms used in the writing of Chinese and Japanese , less frequently Korean , formerly Vietnamese , or other languages...

 參 (pinyin
Pinyin
Pinyin is the official system to transcribe Chinese characters into the Roman alphabet in China, Malaysia, Singapore and Taiwan. It is also often used to teach Mandarin Chinese and spell Chinese names in foreign publications and used as an input method to enter Chinese characters into...

 shēn) originally meant the constellation Orion ; its Shang dynasty
Shang Dynasty
The Shang Dynasty or Yin Dynasty was, according to traditional sources, the second Chinese dynasty, after the Xia. They ruled in the northeastern regions of the area known as "China proper" in the Yellow River valley...

 version, over three millennia old, contains at the top a representation of the three stars of Orion's belt atop a man's head (the bottom portion representing the sound of the word was added later).

The Rig Veda refers to the Orion Constellation as Mriga (The Deer
Deer
Deer are the ruminant mammals forming the family Cervidae. Species in the Cervidae family include white-tailed deer, elk, moose, red deer, reindeer, fallow deer, roe deer and chital. Male deer of all species and female reindeer grow and shed new antlers each year...

).

The Malay called Orion' Belt Bintang Tiga Beradik (the "Three Brother Star").

European folklore

In old Hungarian tradition, "Orion" is known as (magic) Archer (Íjász), or Scyther (Kaszás), by recently rediscovered myths he is rather called Nimrod
Nimrod
Nimrod means "Hunter"; was a Biblical Mesopotamian king mentioned in the Table of Nations; an eponym for the city of Nimrud.Nimrod can also refer to any of the following:*Nimród Antal, a director...

 (Hungarian
Hungarian language
Hungarian is a Uralic language, part of the Ugric group. With some 14 million speakers, it is one of the most widely spoken non-Indo-European languages in Europe....

 "Nimród"), the biggest hunter, father of the twins Hun and Hungarian (Hungarian
Hungarian language
Hungarian is a Uralic language, part of the Ugric group. With some 14 million speakers, it is one of the most widely spoken non-Indo-European languages in Europe....

 "Hunor" and "Magor
Magor
Magor may refer to the following:* Ivan Martin Jirous – a Czech underground poet* Magor , a character from J. R. R. Tolkien's legendarium of Middle-earth* Magor is a legendary ancestor of the Hungarian people, see Hunor and Magor...

"). The "π" and "o" stars (on upper right) form together the reflex bow or the lifted scythe. In other Hungarian traditions, "Orion's belt" is known as "Judge's stick" (Bírópálca). In Scandinavia
Scandinavia
Scandinavia is a cultural, historical and ethno-linguistic region in northern Europe that includes the three kingdoms of Denmark, Norway and Sweden, characterized by their common ethno-cultural heritage and language. Modern Norway and Sweden proper are situated on the Scandinavian Peninsula,...

n tradition, "Orion's belt" was known as Frigg
Frigg
Frigg is a major goddess in Norse paganism, a subset of Germanic paganism. She is said to be the wife of Odin, and is the "foremost among the goddesses" and the queen of Asgard. Frigg appears primarily in Norse mythological stories as a wife and a mother. She is also described as having the power...

's Distaff
Distaff
As a noun, a distaff is a tool used in spinning. It is designed to hold the unspun fibers, keeping them untangled and thus easing the spinning process. It is most commonly used to hold flax, and sometimes wool, but can be used for any type of fiber. Fiber is wrapped around the distaff, and tied in...

 (Friggerock) or Freyja's distaff.

The Finns call the Orion's belt and the stars below it as Väinämöisen viikate (Väinämöinen
Väinämöinen
Väinämöinen is the central character in the Finnish folklore and the main character in the national epic Kalevala. His name comes from the Finnish word väinämö, meaning minstrel. Originally a Finnish god, he was described as an old and wise man, and he possessed a potent, magical...

's scythe
Scythe
A scythe is an agricultural hand tool for mowing grass, or reaping crops. It was largely replaced by horse-drawn and then tractor machinery, but is still used in some areas of Europe and Asia. The Grim Reaper is often depicted carrying or wielding a scythe...

).

New World

The Seri people of northwestern Mexico call the three stars in the belt of this constellation Hapj (a name denoting a hunter) which consists of three stars: Hap (mule deer), Haamoja (pronghorn), and Mojet (bighorn sheep). Hap is in the middle and has been shot by the hunter; its blood has dripped onto Tiburón Island
Tiburón Island
Tiburón Island is both the largest island in the Gulf of California and the largest island in Mexico, with an area of . It was made a nature reserve in 1963 by President Adolfo López Mateos. Tiburón is Spanish for shark. The etymology of the Seri name is unknown...

.

The same three stars are known in Latin America as "The Three Marys
The Three Marys
The Three Marys are the three biblical Marys who came to the sepulchre of Jesus in the Gospels and were companions of Mary, the mother of Jesus. In Eastern Orthodoxy they are among the Myrrhbearers, traditionally including a larger number of people. All four gospels mention the women going to the...

."

Contemporary symbolism

The imagery of the belt and sword has found its way into popular western culture, for example in the form of the shoulder insignia
Insignia
Insignia or insigne pl -nia or -nias : a symbol or token of personal power, status or office, or of an official body of government or jurisdiction...

 of the 27th Infantry Division of the United States Army
United States Army
The United States Army is the main branch of the United States Armed Forces responsible for land-based military operations. It is the largest and oldest established branch of the U.S. military, and is one of seven U.S. uniformed services...

 during both World Wars, probably owing to a pun on the name of the division's first commander, Major General John F. O'Ryan
John F. O'Ryan
John Francis O'Ryan was Commanding General of the 27th Division during World War I.-Career:During the mid 1920s O'Ryan was New York State Transit Commissioner, and was also involved in the early passenger aviation industry.He briefly held the position of New York City Police Commissioner from...

.

The defunct film distribution company Orion Pictures
Orion Pictures
Orion Pictures Corporation was an American independent production company that produced movies from 1978 until 1998. It was formed in 1978 as a joint venture between Warner Bros. and three former top-level executives of United Artists. Although it was never a large motion picture producer, Orion...

 used the constellation as its logo.

Future

Orion is presently located on the celestial equator, but it will not always be so located due to the effects of precession
Precession
Precession is a change in the orientation of the rotation axis of a rotating body. It can be defined as a change in direction of the rotation axis in which the second Euler angle is constant...

 of the Earth's axis. Orion lies well south of the ecliptic, and it only happens to lie on the celestial equator because the point on the ecliptic that corresponds to the June solstice is close to the border of Gemini
Gemini (constellation)
Gemini is one of the constellations of the zodiac. It was one of the 48 constellations described by the 2nd century astronomer Ptolemy and it remains one of the 88 modern constellations today. Its name is Latin for "twins", and it is associated with the twins Castor and Pollux in Greek mythology...

 and Taurus
Taurus (constellation)
Taurus is one of the constellations of the zodiac. Its name is a Latin word meaning 'bull', and its astrological symbol is a stylized bull's head:...

, to the north of Orion. Precession will eventually carry Orion further south, and by AD 14,000 Orion will be far enough south that it will become invisible from the latitude of Great Britain
Great Britain
Great Britain or Britain is an island situated to the northwest of Continental Europe. It is the ninth largest island in the world, and the largest European island, as well as the largest of the British Isles...

.

Further in the future, Orion's stars will gradually move away from the constellation due to proper motion
Proper motion
The proper motion of a star is its angular change in position over time as seen from the center of mass of the solar system. It is measured in seconds of arc per year, arcsec/yr, where 3600 arcseconds equal one degree. This contrasts with radial velocity, which is the time rate of change in...

. However, Orion's brightest stars all lie at a large distance from the Earth on an astronomical scale—much farther away than Sirius
Sirius
Sirius is the brightest star in the night sky. With a visual apparent magnitude of −1.46, it is almost twice as bright as Canopus, the next brightest star. The name "Sirius" is derived from the Ancient Greek: Seirios . The star has the Bayer designation Alpha Canis Majoris...

, for example. Orion will still be recognizable long after most of the other constellations—composed of relatively nearby stars—have distorted into new configurations, with the exception of a few of its stars eventually exploding as supernova
Supernova
A supernova is a stellar explosion that is more energetic than a nova. It is pronounced with the plural supernovae or supernovas. Supernovae are extremely luminous and cause a burst of radiation that often briefly outshines an entire galaxy, before fading from view over several weeks or months...

e, for example Betelgeuse
Betelgeuse
Betelgeuse, also known by its Bayer designation Alpha Orionis , is the eighth brightest star in the night sky and second brightest star in the constellation of Orion, outshining its neighbour Rigel only rarely...

.

External links

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