Today in my A-Z challenge, we’re looking at things in sky that beings with the letter “O”. There are three constellations u fitting this bill: Octans, Ophiuchus, and Orion. Unless you live pretty far south of the equator, you’ve probably never heard of Octans, as it is around the Celestial South Pole. It’s a more recent constellation, named for the tool used to determine latitude before sextants came into use. It also doesn’t have a bright start like Polaris. Ophiuchus, the snake handler, is found along the zodiac and is better known, but Orion is perhaps the best known constellation in the sky. Of course, you probably didn’t know that Ophiuchus is in the Zodiac, but it is between Sagittarius and Scorpius. It was in the Zodiacs of the Greeks and Romans and the modern scientific community, but not the one of fortune-tellers who have only 12 signs. Although a neat constellation, it pales when compared to Orion, the most beautiful constellation in the winter sky.
I have spoken of Orion several times in this tour, as we’ve looked at Betelgeuse and this at Canis Major, his famous dog in the sky. Orion is a huge constellation and from it you can find many other constellations in the winter sky. I expect this constellation may be the most popular one in the sky, surpassing even the Big Dipper, because its position around the equator allows it to be seen by so much of the earth.
Orion drew my interest into astronomy. As a child, I spent many nights fishing on beach during the fall. In October, you’d see Orion rise, on his side, around 9 PM. Later in the fall, it was early and by Christmas he’d cleared the horizon well before dark. You can still see Orion now, shortly after dark, dropping in the Western horizon. The most distinguishable feature of Orion are the three stars of his belt. It’s easy to see the knife hanging off the belt, his arms and legs. There are many bright stars in the constellation including Betelgeuse (12th brightest star in sky) and Rigel (his left foot and the 8th brightest star).
Almost every culture has a story about Orion, along with a different name. The most common myth is that Orion was the son of Neptune and Euryale (a nymph). He was a huge and fearless hunter who boasted that he was exterminate the animals of the earth. Hearing this, Gaia, the goddess of earth, sent a scorpion that bit Orion, causing a mortal wound. But he was saved by Ophiuchus, the snake handler who was also a physician. This is all played out in the sky, as Orion is never present when the scorpion (Scorpius) is in the sky. Furthermore, as Scorpius sets, Ophiuchus stands over the insect, trampling him. In another story, Sagittarius, the archer, was sent to avenge Orion’s death and the archer’s arrow is pointed at the scorpion.
Although he is not in the sky, Samuel Clemen's (Mark Twain's) brother was also named Orion. Supposedly, their mother was interested in the stars and thereby decided to name her older son for the constellation. The constellation Orion also appears three times in the Bible (Job 9:9 and 38:31 and Amos 5:8).