Orion: the Hunter Constellation

Star Walk
10 min readMar 27

--

Image Credit: Vito Technology, Inc.

Orion is one of the most recognizable and iconic constellations in the night sky. It can be observed worldwide thanks to its position on the celestial dome. In this article, we’ll learn how to spot it in the night sky and closely examine its stars and sky objects.

Orion constellation facts

- Name: Orion

- Abbreviation: Ori

- Size: 594 sq. deg.

- Right ascension: 5h

- Declination: 5°

- Visible between: 85°N — 75°S

- Brightest star: Rigel (β Orionis)

- Main stars: 21

- Messier DSO: 3

- Bordering constellations: Gemini, Taurus, Eridanus, Lepus, Monoceros

Orion constellation location

The constellation Orion takes up 594 sq. deg. of the sky and is the 26th largest of 88 officially recognized constellations. It is placed between the constellations Monoceros and Taurus; Eridanus and Lepus can be found under Orion’s feet, and Gemini is above his head.

The constellation belongs to the Orion family, which also includes Canis Major, Canis Minor, Lepus, and Monoceros. They represent a hunting scene: Orion and his dogs are chasing down the hare while the unicorn is prancing by.

Where is the Orion constellation in the sky?

Orion is located on the celestial equator and is visible throughout the world. Observers from the Northern Hemisphere can see it in the southwestern skies. In the Southern Hemisphere, Orion can be found in the northwestern skies.

How to find the Orion constellation?

Orion is one of the most recognizable constellations as it has a prominent feature that can be easily seen from anywhere in the world. Of course, we are talking about the Orion’s Belt asterism — a three-star line marking the waist of the Hunter. Once you spot it, you can easily find the rest of the stars that form the figure of Orion:

Image Credit: Vito Technology, Inc.

- icy-blue Rigel (the brightest star in the constellation) and Saiph mark his feet;

- reddish Betelgeuse (the second brightest star in the constellation) and Bellatrix mark Orion’s shoulders;

- Meissa, which marks the Hunter’s head, forms a nearly-equilateral triangle with Betelgeuse and Bellatrix;

- not far from Betelgeuse, there is μ Orionis which marks the elbow of the right hand that is raised above Orion’s head;

- in his right arm, Orion holds a club made up of ν, ξ, χ¹, and χ² Orionis;

- in his left arm, he is holding a shield marked by 11 Orionis, ο² Orionis, and a group of stars, all designated π Orionis (π¹ Ori, π² Ori, π³ Ori, π⁴ Ori, π⁵ Ori, and π⁶ Ori);

- Orion also has a sword hanging from his belt. On the tip of its blade, there’s the Orion Nebula.

How to find the Orion constellation via stargazing apps?

The easiest way to find Orion is to use stargazing apps. This way, you will not be mistaken and will identify all the stars correctly. We’ll explain how to find the constellation using the Star Walk 2 and Sky Tonight apps.

Star Walk 2:

- Launch the app and tap the magnifier icon in the lower-left corner of the screen;

- Type “Orion” in the search bar;

- Tap the corresponding search result;

- You’ll see the constellation’s current position in the sky;

- Point your device at the sky and follow the white arrow to find the constellation.

For a visual representation, watch the video tutorial and follow the steps given there.

Sky Tonight:

- Launch the app and tap the magnifier icon at the lower part of the screen;

- Type “Orion” in the search bar;

- Tap the target icon opposite the corresponding search result;

- You’ll see the constellation’s current position in the sky;

- Point your device at the sky and follow the white arrow to find the constellation.

Orion’s Belt and its stars

Both amateur stargazers and skilled astronomers are familiar with Orion’s Belt, which is a prominent star pattern often used for navigating the sky. It consists of three evenly-spaced stars that form a nearly straight line. They were probably all born around the same time and formed from the plasma clouds within the same sky region we now know as Orion’s belt.

Image credit: Digitized Sky Survey, ESA/ESO/NASA FITS Liberator

Alnitak

- Other names: ζ Orionis, 50 Orionis

- Type: triple-star system

- Magnitude: 1.77

- Name’s origin: “the griddle” (Arabic)

- Description: Alnitak is located at about 1,260 light-years from the Sun. One of the system’s components, Alnitak Ab, is probably the oldest star in the constellation Orion (about 7.2 million years old).

Alnilam

- Other names: ε Ori, Epsilon Orionis, 46 Orionis, HD 37128, HIP 26311

- Type: blue supergiant

- Magnitude: 1.69

- Name’s origin: “string of pearls” (Arabic)

- Description: Alnilam is the central star of Orion’s Belt. It is located about 2,000 light-years from the Solar System. It is estimated to be 275,000 to 832,000 times as luminous as the Sun and about 40 times as massive.

Mintaka

- Other names: δ Ori, Delta Orionis, 34 Orionis

- Type: multiple-star system

- Magnitude: 2.23

- Name’s origin: “the belt” (Arabic)

- Description: Mintaka lies about 1,200 light-years from us. It’s 24 times as heavy as the Sun.

Where is Orion’s Belt tonight?

Stars are constantly moving across the celestial dome. To find Orion’s Belt in the sky, use Sky Tonight: tap on the magnifying glass icon in the lower part of the screen and type the name of the asterism into the search field. Then, tap the blue target icon, and the app will show Orion’s Belt on the sky map. Point your device up and follow the white arrow to learn the Belt’s position in the sky. You can activate AR mode by tapping the big blue button in the lower right.

Bright stars in the Orion constellation

With many prominent stars brighter than magnitude 4, Orion is easy to see with the naked eye.

Image credit: Astronomy Calgary

Rigel

- Other names: β Ori, Beta Orionis, HR 1713, HIP 24436

- Type: blue supergiant

- Magnitude: from 0.05 to 0.18

- Name’s origin: “left foot or leg” (Arabic)

- Description: Rigel is the brightest star in Orion and the 7th brightest star in the night sky. It is located at a distance of about 860 light-years from the Solar System.

Betelgeuse

- Other names: α Ori, Alpha Orionis, HR 2061, HIP 27989

- Type: red supergiant

- Magnitude: from 0.0 to 1.6

- Name’s origin: “armpit of the giant” (Arabic)

- Description: Betelgeuse is the second brightest star in Orion and the 10th brightest star in the night sky. It is the nearest red supergiant star to the Earth, located at about 724 light-years from our planet.

Bellatrix

- Other names: γ Ori, Gamma Orionis, HR 1790, HIP 25336

- Type: blue giant

- Magnitude: from 1.59 to 1.64

- Name’s origin: “female warrior” (Latin)

- Description: Bellatrix is the third-brightest star in Orion. Bellatrix is one of the hottest stars you can see with the naked eye: it has a temperature of ​​21,477°C (for comparison, the Sun is 5,500°C).

Saiph

- Other names: κ Ori, Kappa Orionis, 53 Orionis, HR 2004, HIP 27366

- Type: blue supergiant

- Magnitude: 2.1

- Name’s origin: “sword of the giant” (Arabic)

- Description: Saiph is the sixth-brightest star in the constellation Orion. It lies about 650 light-years from the Solar System and shines in blue-white color.

σ Orionis

- Other names: σ Ori, Sigma Orionis, HR 1931, HIP 26549

- Type: multiple-star system

- Magnitude: 3.80

- Description: It is a part of the eponymous star cluster that can be found in the same telescopic field of view as the Horsehead Nebula.

Deep-sky objects in the Orion constellation

The constellation Orion features three Messier objects, one of which — the Orion Nebula — we’ll take a closer look at. Many of the deep-sky objects in Orion are part of the Orion molecular cloud complex.

Orion Nebula

Image credit: NASA, ESA, Hubble Space Telescope Orion Treasury Project Team

The Orion Nebula (M42, Messier 42, NGC 1976) can be found near the Orion’s Belt. It is one of the brightest nebulae: with an apparent magnitude of 4.0, it can be spotted without optical aid. To the naked eye, it appears like a star. Binoculars or a small telescope reveal the nebulosity.

Trapezium Cluster

Image credit: Hubble Legacy Archive, Robert Gendler

The Trapezium cluster (Theta1 Orionis) is an open cluster located in the heart of the Orion Nebula. Through binoculars, the cluster appears as a single star. Medium-aperture telescopes resolve the four brightest stars forming the trapezium asterism. Through a big telescope, you can see more stars and nebulosity illuminated.

Horsehead Nebula

Image credit: Ken Crawford

The Horsehead Nebula (Barnard 33, IC 434) is a small absorption nebula in the constellation Orion. It can be seen in the sky near the star Alnitak. The nebula is known as one of the most challenging objects to observe through a telescope, so amateur astronomers often use it to test their skills. Also, it is one of the most popular astrophotography targets.

The Horsehead Nebula is one of the most recognizable nebulae as it resembles a horse’s head. But can you identify some other nebulae with telling names? Take our quiz to look through the stunning photos of the numerous sky objects and guess what they are called!

The Flame Nebula

Image credit: NASA

The Flame Nebula (NGC 2024, Sh2–277) is an emission nebula in the constellation Orion. It lies approximately 1,350 light-years from the Earth and has an apparent magnitude of 10. It is lit by a star inside it that is 20 times the mass of the Sun and could be as bright to our eyes as the other stars in Orion’s Belt. However, it is surrounded by a cloud of dust, which blocks the light and makes it appear 4 billion times dimmer than it actually is.

Story of the Orion constellation

Orion is one of the most long-known constellations: the earliest depiction linked to it dates back to 38,000 years ago. The pattern in the constellation Orion was recognized as a human figure by many ancient cultures all over the planet.

Orion in Greek mythology

In Greek mythology, the constellation Orion is associated with a legendary hunter. There are many different versions of how Orion got turned into a constellation. According to one of them, he was stung by a giant scorpion sent by Gaea — the goddess of the Earth. She didn’t like the way Orion boasted about being able to kill every animal in the world. So the goddess Artemis asked Zeus to place her fellow hunter in the skies, and he turned Orion into a constellation, as well as the giant scorpion.

Orion constellation story in other cultures

The constellation is reflected in Sumerian mythology, specifically in the myth of Gilgamesh. Sumerians associated it with the story of the hero fighting the bull of Heaven, represented by Taurus. It can also be connected to a story of the attack on Gilgamesh by the scorpion men. The Arabs saw the constellation as the figure of a giant. Ancient Indians saw the figure of a man who had been shot by an arrow (represented by the stars in Orion’s belt).

F.A.Q.

What is special about the Orion constellation?

Orion is visible from everywhere on the Earth and is one of the most recognizable constellations: it holds the famous Orion’s Belt asterism often used for locating other bright stars. Orion has two of the ten brightest stars in the night sky and many deep-sky targets good for amateur and seasoned astronomers. Also, one of the most prolific meteor showers of the year, the Orionids, is associated with the constellation.

What does the Orion constellation look like?

The most prominent stars in the constellation Orion form an hourglass-shaped star pattern: Rigel and Saiph mark the feet, Betelgeuse and Bellatrix mark the arms and the stars of Orion’s Belt form the waist. It is depicted as a hunter holding a bow with an arrow or a club (or sword) and shield.

How many stars are in the Orion constellation?

Twenty-one stars form Orion’s outline: the seven brightest mark the Hunter’s body and the renowned Belt, and the rest mark his club and shield. Of all the stars within the constellation’s borders, 10 have formal names approved by the IAU, 81 have Bayer/Flamsteed designations, and more than 200 are listed in the Hipparcos Catalog.

What is the brightest star in the Orion constellation?

Rigel is the most prominent star in the constellation Orion. It is one of the brightest stars in the night sky and can be easily found with the naked eye.

When can you see the Orion constellation?

The constellation Orion is best visible during the winter months in the Northern Hemisphere and summer months in the Southern Hemisphere. ​​From May to July, it is in the daytime sky and, therefore, is invisible at most latitudes.

Bottom line

Orion is one of the most famous constellations, as it can be observed from both hemispheres. Everyone can find a good observation target within its borders depending on their skills and equipment. Explore the night sky with the Sky Tonight app, and follow us on social media for even more astronomical news!

--

--

Star Walk

Point your device at the sky and see what stars, constellations, and satellites you are looking at 🌌✨ https://starwalk.space