Orion and the Orionids
Orion is one of the easier constellations to identify in the autumn sky. By about 11:00 in the eastern sky you will see four bright stars forming a crude rectangle orientated somewhat vertically. That is Orion. Within the rectangle, near the middle, are three prominent stars arrayed in a row, equidistant, and dipping to the left. That’s Orion’s belt. A couple stars are visible in a hazy area a bit below the middle of Orion’s belt. That is his sword.
Orion was a prominent feature in Greek mythology where he was highly regarded as a hunter. It is interesting to note that Orion is referenced in Homer’s Iliad and the Odyssey, Paradise Lost, and three times in the Bible.
There are several myths about Orion, and one myth has him dying from stepping on a scorpion. For his eternal safety, the gods placed him in the heavens well away from the scorpion (the constellation Scorpius). He can be seen up there with his two dogs (Canus major and Canus minor) fighting Taurus the bull, and hunting Lepus the hare.
Orion is also of interest right now because of the Orionid Meteor Shower. The shower started earlier this week and will continue through about the 25th with the best part of the show being this weekend, on the 21st, with perhaps twenty meteors per hour. However if we are lucky enough to have clear skies, there should be good viewing until through the 25th. The moon is in the first quarter and sets around midnight, so the viewing should be particularly good after that.
The Orionid meteor shower occurs every fall as the earth passes through the debris field of Halley’s Comet. Next May we will again travel through the debris field of Halley’s Comet, but that shower is called the Aquarids. The Orionids are so named because the meteors are seen radiating out of the constellation Orion. Next May of courses, the meteors will appear to originate in the constellation Aquarius.
After fully rising by about 11:00 pm central time, Orion will travel westward across the sky as the evening progresses. The Orionids have produced an increased number of meteors the past few years, and they are also known to be rather unpredictable, so they are certainly worth watching if skies are clear. So make a point to watch the Orionids. They are one of the best celestial shows of the year.
Natural North Dakota is supported by NDSU Central Grasslands Research Extension Center and Minot State University-Bottineau, and by the members of Prairie Public. Thanks to Sunny 101.9 in Bottineau for their recording services.
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