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Orion - the Hunter


Mythology - The Egyptians saw Orion as the embodiment of the soul of Osiris. The belt stars seem to be mirrored in the arrangement of pyramids at Gizeh. Indeed the Great pyramid of Khufu has hollow shafts leading from the king's chamber that could have acted as sighting lines for Alnilam in the IVth dynasty, or as conduits for the soul of the pharoah (the earthly incarnation of Osiris). In Greek mythology, Orion was born to the widower Irieus, a poor shepherd, who invited the gods Zeus, Poseidon and Hermes to dinner without knowing who they were. Unable to offer them anything to eat, he butchered the only animal he had, an ox, and made them comfortable. For his sacrifice and hospitality the gods offered him anything he could want. Irieus asked for a son. Poseidon took the ox skin and urinated on it, buried it and 9 months later Orion was born. Orion was a giant of a man and had the gift of walking across water bestowed by his father. As Orion grew he became a great hunter and womanizer. He had his eyes gouged out and had to search for his sight by seeking Eos (the dawn). He became friend and lover of the goddess Artemis and settled in Crete, boasting to the gods that he had hunted down every wild animal on that island after a year. Apollo, the brother of Artemis became jealous of her infatuation with Orion and attempted to have him killed by a scorpion placed on his hunting path. As Orion approached, the scorpion fled. With the hunter in pursuit it jumped into the ocean and swam with Orion close behind. Apollo placed a beam of light on the swimmer and dared his sister to hit the tiny spot on the water. Never one to pass on a chance to showcase her hunting skills, Artemis killed her lover with a single arrow. His body washed up on the shore the next day. In her sorrow she asked that Zeus place him in the sky where he could remain for eternity with his hunting dogs and the hare Lepus. Apollo insisted that the scorpion be placed in the sky as well to commemorate the hunter's downfall.
Stars - Betelgeuse (alpha orionis) or “The armpit of the Great One” is an orange looking star that is a fine
example of a red supergiant. Its diameter has been measured at over 4 A.Us and could encompass
the orbit of Mars if placed where our Sun is. It is a variable star (mag. 0.4 to 1.6) but is irregular. The multiple star system theta orionis lies at the heart of the Great Nebula in Orion. The four bright stars
are often referred to as the Trapezium and are visible with a small telescope. Rigel (beta orionis) is an example of a blue supergiant that could well turn into a supernova. It has a 7th magnitude companion that is also bluish when seen through a small telescope. Mintaka (delta orionis) is a binocular double. U orionis is a mira type star having a brightness variation of mag. 4.8 to 13 over 368 days.
Deepsky - Orion plays host to the most spectacular of emission nebulæ, M42. It is visible to the naked eye as the middle “star” of his sword. Through binoculars or a small telescope it looks like a fan shaped cloud. Larger telescopes reveal an intricate structure and the central new-born stars that are illuminating it, together with the connected knot of M43. M78 is an 8th magnitude reflection nebula north of the belt.
Visibility - Orion is a Winter signpost and can be seen best from December through to March