Stop #3 – The Orion the Pointer

Sirius and Orion

Use Orion’s belt to find Sirius

Now that we know Orion pretty well, we can use him to help us find some other important places in the universe.

Sirius

#1 – Sirius – The brightest star in the night sky.

Sirius is only 8.6 light years away from us, so when you look at it, you’re really seeing what it looked like 2 U.S. presidential terms ago.

For most of us in the Northern hemisphere, it is the closest star (after our own Sun) to Earth that we can see with the naked eye.

Sirius gets it’s name from the Greek word Σείριος (Seirios), meaning “glowing” or “scorcher”.  It’s sometimes called the “Dog Star”, as it’s the brightest star in the constellation Canis Major (The Great Dog). (We’ll talk more about Canis Major soon.)

To find Sirius, use Orion’s belt as a pointer, and follow it about 5 belt-widths to the left and you should see a very bright star.

Aldebaran

Aldebaran – an orange giant star located about 65 light years away, Aldebaran is the brightest star in the constellation of Taurus (The Bull), and the 14th brightest star in the night sky. The name Aldebaran is Arabic (الدبران al-dabarān) for “the follower“, presumably because it appears to follow the Pleiades, or “Seven Sisters” star cluster in the night sky.

To find Aldebaran, follow Orion’s belt about 5 belt-widths to the right.

Aldebaran-Orion

Aldebaran is about five belt-widths away from Orion’s belt

The Pleiades

From Orion’s belt, continue past Aldebaran, farther to the right, to find a densely-packed cluster of hot blue and extremely luminous stars named the Pleiades (PLEA-uh-deez) or Seven Sisters (Messier object 45 orM45).   The Pleiades is an star cluster in the constellation of Taurus that has been revered by many cultures for thousands of years.  The Babylonians noted them over 3,000 years ago; they’re mentioned in the Bible and the Koran; and they’re part of the mythology of every major ancient culture, including the Aztecs, the indigenous Australians, the Chinese, and the Tamils. The star cluster is also used as the logo of the Subaru car company.

The Pleiades

The Pleiades, from the Hubble Space Telescope

The Pleiades are made up of relatively young stars that have formed within the last 100 million years, and depending on how you’re counting, you might see 6, 7, or even 10 bright stars in the cluster.  The brightest seven are AlcyoneAtlasElectraMaiaMeropeTaygeta, and Pleione.

Subaru

The Pleiades star cluster, originally called “Mutsuraboshi” in Japanese (“the six stars”), but now known as “Subaru”  is also the logo of the Subaru car company.