The stars of Orion. Constellation’s Belt and Nebula. Importants stories and amazing facts. The planet Kynigos (+ Pictures)
When we look up at the night sky provided (it’s on a clear night unlike a good amount of nights here in Ohio) we see an uncountable number of stars scattered across it. Too overwhelming and brilliant to truly piece together and make sense of. Or so it seems. The scattering may appear random but the positions of these stars is generally predictable. Every night of every year. As our very ancient ancestors soon realized they are so predictable. As our ancestors notice them over and over, they connected the dots creating constellations.
How many stars we know on Orion Constellation
Our night sky is filled with ancient stories, legends and myths. Perhaps the most famous of the 88 official constellations is Orion the Hunter. The ancient Greeks gave this constellation its name. When they looked at it they saw a warrior holding up a shield and either a club or a sword. The constellations most distinctive feature is the three stars arranged in a seemingly perfect line making up Orion’s belt. Orion’s Fame is owed to this easy to find feature in the night sky.
We don’t look at the stars as closely as our ancestors did. And we may not have noticed that not all of the stars in Orion or in the night sky in general are the same color. Some like this one are red. Some are yellow, some are blue, some are white some are brighter than others.
Furthermore we can’t see this but some of the stars in Orion are not actually individual stars. What? What are we looking at here? In this article we are going to be exploring the history and mythology of the Orion constellation. But mostly we will be talking about what exactly it is that we’re looking at when we see it. It’s an easy enough constellation to find. But when you know what you’re looking at it really is just a whole new perspective. So let’s get to it.
Many different peoples around the world noticed Orion’s distinctive row of stars and connected them and the surrounding dots to form a picture. The heavens were no trivial matter and the images people saw the night sky were there for a reason. Because the Stars happen to be arranged in a humanoid position:
- many cultures like the peoples of India Egypt and Babylon saw their gods.
- Other cultures in the Americas saw hunter.
- The Polynesians saw a child playing with a toy.
- And the Lakota saw a bison.
The ancient Greeks were among those who saw a man a hunter with divine origins.
There are different stories regarding Orion hunters mythological origins but the majority of the stories are told like this. Orion was a giant and a hunter, the son of Poseidon and King Minos’s daughter. He fell in love with Artemis, goddess of the hunt. He boasted to her that he was such a skilled Huntsman that he could slay any and every creature on the earth. However Gaia goddess and personification of the earth heard him and was angered by this remark. To protect the creatures of the earth she summoned a scorpion who met Orien in battle. Orion was killed and Artemis heartbroken asked Zeus to place him among the stars in the sky. Zeus agreed and also placed the scorpion in the sky to commemorate his battle.
How to find Orion Constellation in the sky
The constellation Scorpius then took its place in the sky though the two as he term arrivals are on opposite ends of the sky – one rising as the other sets. According to some tales that was Apollo who plotted to have Orion killed as he was jealous of his sister’s infatuation for him. But regardless he and his hunting prowess are commemorated in the winter sky. Canis Major and Minor furthermore, the big and little dog are less often though at times considered to have been Orion’s hunting dogs and are found next to him as well.
Together they travel the sky perhaps hunting the nearby constellation of Lapus the Rabbit or fighting Taurus the Bull. Orion is visible across the planets and is most visible from early January to the end of March, disappearing and not long after. This does not hold true in the South Pole however, where it is hidden by the endless Sun in that time. But it can be seen there in through July.
8 primary stars
There are eight primary stars which make up the Orion constellation. But within the International Astronomical union official borders there are many many more. Scientists have discovered ten stars with planets orbiting them. These 19 exoplanets are only the tip of the tip of the iceberg as the constellation has not been heavily explored for exoplanets. More on them in a bit. The names of the eight primary stars of Orion are also:
- ancient Rigel
and the three Belt stars of
- Alnilam and
And that’s not all.
When you look at Orion you are looking at things which are perhaps even more spectacular than just stars.
Let’s start with Betelgeuse. There are a couple of acceptable pronunciations for the Stars name but many people stick with the slightly gross name of Betelgeuse. The name originally comes from Arabic and means either the armpit of Orion or the hand of Orion. It is an easily found bright red star. It was not always red though. Betelgeuse is undergoing a change which is slow to us but rapid on the cosmic scale. Let’s take a closer look.
Scientists upon realizing the size of this slide have deduced that it is an absolute unit. Here is a comparison between its size versus the size of our Sun. Its diameter is hundreds of times that of our Sun. Such a size is difficult to imagine however its diameter changes with time because it is a pulsating star. It’s internally unstable. Betelgeuse may have a large diameter but it is only 15 times as massive as our Sun. It is also comparatively a baby – less than 10 million years old compared to our 5 billion year old Sun.
Because of its situation scientists expected Betelgeuse to go what’s called supernovae relatively soon. Soon meaning somewhere around a hundred thousand years. It could be this year but it could also happen in 50. And indeed the evidence points more in the direction of a longer wait for this one. Betelgeuse is what’s called a red supergiant star. It is nearing the end of its life.
What’s going on with it? Stars like our Sun and Betelgeuse are giant balls of plasma. They burn by a process called nuclear fusion. This happens inside their cores. The cores become so hot and pressurized that hydrogen atoms which is what most of the star is made of start to fuse with other hydrogen atoms producing helium. This process releases a huge amount of energy.
The energy released is what holds the star up. If it weren’t for this ongoing reaction gravity would cause the Sun to implode on itself. Betelgeuse has burned through much of the hydrogen in its core turning it in helium. When it reached this point it started to collapse in on itself. As it did so the pressure and heat built up in the core even further to the point at which these helium atoms started fusing into carbon. As this process began the heat and pressure caused the surface of the star to re-expand well beyond its original size.
Our Sun will run out of hydrogen in about five billion years and then slowly go out with a whimper. But stars like Betelgeuse tend to live fast and die young. Burning through their hydrogen very quickly and going out with a bang. As this process continues and heavier elements start to become fused in the core not long after a silicon is fused into iron a process which will only take about a day it will likely cause an explosion. A supernova. It isn’t exactly clear what will happen but scientists lean much more heavily toward a bang caused by the star imploding then exploding in a bounce back when the pressure in the core becomes too great.
The remnant of this supernova explosion may very well be a neutron star which is a tiny very dense kind of freaky ghost star. That almost seems like it defies the laws of nature. The core of the star could also collapse in on itself into what’s called a singularity that’s producing a very mysterious thing called the black hole. But it doesn’t seem like Betelgeuse is big enough to do that. Again scientists aren’t sure but we will probably be left with a bang and a neutron star.
This explosion will be absolutely massive. You would be able to see it from outside the galaxy. Understanding this let’s get to the fun question: Will we be able to see this explosion if and when it happens from the surface of the Earth? Absolutely! Scientists expect that the explosion will outshine the full moon and be visible in the daytime for about two to three months. It will be a glorious sight.
But will it kill all of us? No, almost certainly not. It’s bad news for anyone living on a planet closer to it but it’s somewhere around 700 light-years from us or roughly 6 quadrillion kilometers. That’s plenty of space for the nasty stuff released in the explosion to dissipate in space. Betelgeuse due to these characteristics was recently in the news. The media likes to present the star as a danger on the verge of explosion. It’s important to keep in mind that even when the media does understand a scientific issue that they report on which as scientists from every field know is not always they are ultimately in the business of selling papers. Not necessarily truth. The fact is scary equals money so always take such reports with a grain of salt.
Rigel generally the brightest star in Orion is actually at least four stars. It’s hard for scientists to tell. The main star is called Rigel A. It’s smaller companion Rigel B itself appears to be orbited by two smaller stars. Rigel’s name is also Arabic, meaning the foot of Orion. The main star is even younger than Betelgeuse at about 8 million years old. It is a blue supergiant and will also one day end in a supernova explosion. It is around 860 light years away over 100 light years further than Betelgeuse. Though these stars appear right next to each other in our sky they’re not often and there may be great distances between them.
Bellatrix taking its name from Latin meaning female warrior and located here is another blue supergiant star around 250 light-years from Earth.
Saiph, Arabic for sword is another blue supergiant. Naturally these supergiant stars, very large and very luminous, are going to be the easiest ones to see in the night sky. Stars like our Sun unfortunately are harder to spot.
Meissa, from the Arabic The Shining one appears to be a triple star system with two real stars possibly being orbited by a brown dwarf star also called a failed star. A star which did not achieve nuclear fusion kind of getting stuck in a halfway point between a star and a giant gaseous planet like Jupiter.
Looking at Orion’s belt on the talk Arabic for The Girdle over a thousand light-years from Earth is a triple star system. The main star being another blue supergiant.
Alnilam, Arabic for String of Pearls is a blue supergiant over 2,000 light-years away from Earth.
Mintaka, Arabic for Belt, twelve thousand or so light-years from Earth is a multiple star system as well. It contains a whole cluster of stars often called a star cluster with the main star being of course a blue supergiant.
The other stars of Orion less bright but perhaps even more interesting are certainly worth discussing. There is a fainter row of stars in Orion as well. This row of stars here is sometimes referred to as Orion’s sword. The middle one is known as Messier 42 or M 42
look at it closely in the night sky and you will see that it’s a bit of a strange fuzzy looking star. It is in fact not the star when you look at it you are actually looking at this: The Orion Nebula. It is over a thousand light years from Earth and is absolutely enormous. 24 light-years wide, Nebulae (Latin for clouds or fog) are collections of interstellar dust and gases. Orion is perhaps the most famous nebula. Here, new stars are formed. Alongside the material for planets to form alongside them. These stars (many hundreds of them) cause the surrounding gas to heat up and glow. This is even faintly visible with just a pair of binoculars. Closer up photographs reveal an absolutely spectacular image. There may also be a black hole lurking here.
Orion molecular cloud complex
The Orion Nebula is not even the only nebula located within the constellation. The Horsehead Nebula and the Flame nebula are located just under all Alnitak. Each of these are part of what’s called the Orion molecular cloud complex. These two nebulae however are not visible with the naked eye. The Monkey Head Nebula, much more distant than these two at 6400 light-years away, is located above and to the left of Betelgeuse.
Finally we of course promised you planets. Have you ever looked at the Orion constellation and wondered if anyone was looking back? There is a possibility that someone or something is indeed. There is a planet which orbits a star called HD 38858 also called HR 2007. The planet discovered in 2011 has been given the colorful name HD 38858 B. For now let’s call the planet Kynigos, κυνηγός, the Greek word for hunter to avoid that mouthful.
You can actually see the star with the naked eye relatively close in astronomical terms. But even if we could build a spacecraft which could travel at just 10% the speed of light (something we probably won’t be able to do anytime soon) it would take 500 years to get there. The star is a yellow G-type star like our Sun, about a billion years older. The thing about Kynigos is that it orbits its star in what’s called its habitable zone, the zone in which planets could potentially support conditions like those on Earth.
This doesn’t always work out Mars and Venus for example are in our Sun’s habitable zone but it is the ideal place to start looking for alien life. The problem is that Kynigos is likely a gas giant like Jupiter and Saturn, and is twice the size of Uranus. Gas giants are not promising candidates for hosting life. It might be possible but they aren’t the first place astronomers would like to look. I wonder though could a large rocky moon orbit Kynigos, one which is a bit like the Earth, with oceans, rain, maybe even life, it’s possible.
But it would not be Earth-2. The planet’s orbit is more eccentric than the planets of our solar system with an orbital eccentricity of 0.27 +/- point 17 compared to Earth’s .016. So it would swing in and out of temperature zones more. This moon would also be geothermically very active. As swinging around Kynigos would grind the moon’s core as Europa and Io’s core are stretched as they orbit Jupiter.
It would also likely be tidally locked with one side constantly facing the planet. Meaning the days and nights would like to be much longer than on Earth. However life could still potentially rise here. The odds are less promising than other candidates and therefore Kynigos will likely not be the first planet we check. But maybe just maybe there are beings in the realm that we call the constellation Orion looking right back at us.
And so that ladies and gentlemen is the constellation Orion. It is only the beginning of what can be found in the night sky. And we hope you will never look at it the same way again.