Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Orion's Stars

I was always fascinated by the names of the stars. Who named them and what were they thinking about? The most famous star in Orion is, of course, Betelgeuse. People pronounce it in many ways, but I prefer "Beetle-juice." The name is Arabic in origin and means the "Armpit of the Great Central One." Betelgeuse is a red supergiant star nearing the end of its lifetime. When it goes, it will make a huge blast. And it probably will be stinky.

Orion's other armpit (actually his left shoulder) is marked by the deep-blue star Bellatrix. From Greek and Roman origins, Bellatrix means, "Female Warrior" or "Amazon Star." Legends say that women born under this star will be strong and have a gift for language.  Not quite like Bellatrix Lestrange...

Bellatrix Lestrange

Bellatrix "Le Star"
But why does Orion, the meanest, macho-est, man in the sky have a girlie star? He must be in touch with his feminine side...

The brightest star in Orion is actually his left foot, Rigel. Rigel is another Arab-named star meaning, you guessed it, left foot. One of the brightest blue giants, Rigel is a nice contrast to ruddy Betelgeuse.

The three stars in the belt also have Arabic names. From left to right they are Alnitak (the girdle), Alnilam (the string of pearls), and Mintaka (the belt).  "Belt...belt...belt."

Click on the map/picture at the top right for a close up and try to find these stars in Orion this month.