Part 1: The Astronomy
Let’s begin our tour of the constellations with Orion, or the Hunter in Greek mythology. First of all, let’s find it the sky; it’s observable from both hemispheres because it’s located on the equator, and it can be observed from November till mid-March. It’s very easy to spot because of its asterism: Orion’s belt that is three stars forming a line.
It’s an interesting constellation, let’s start with α Orionis: Betelgeuse. It’s a massive supergiant 950 times the mass of our Sun, that portrays the right shoulder of the hunter with a visual magnitude of nearly 0.7 making it the 7th brightest star in our night sky, and it’s some 640 light years away. This star, although it’s only a few millions years old should go supernova (and I mean serious boom) any time now! According to astronomers, ‘anytime now’ means maybe tonight, maybe ten thousand years from now, because the scale they’re working on is so grand. Furthermore, given how distant it is, the star might have blown up already and we’re just waiting for these particles to reach our telescopes.
|The stars of Orion|
Next, comes Rigel, β Orionis, a star that is 862.9 light years away. Bellatrix, or γ orionis, is the 27th brightest star in our night sky with a visual magnitude of 1.6. The name Bellatrix is Latin for the female warrior, it’s also referred to as the Amazon star. As we go down the list, we get to δ Orionis, Mintaka is some 692 light years away, and together with Alnitak and Alnilam form Orion’s belt.
|Relative distance of the Orion stars|
Once you spot this constellation, it can help you locate other constellations and neighboring objects, like Gemini’s Castor and Pollux using Betelgeuse, Taurus’ Aldebaran, and Canis Major’s Sirius using Orion’s belt.
|Use Orion for quick and easy celestial navigation|
Stars aside, Orion hides some breathtaking deep sky objects for you to look for. Let’s start with the Orion Nebula catalogued as M42, it’s visible as a fuzzy object to the naked eye, and it can be found in the middle of the Hunter’s sword; it’s a star-formation area.
|M42 - The Orion Nebula Location|
|M42 - The Orion Nebula|
Next up, is an other nebula, NGC 1977, it’s just 0.5° north of M42 (or south of it if you’re looking up from the southern hemisphere). It has an apparent magnitude of 7.0.
|NGC 1977 Nebula|
Also, don’t miss one of my favorite nebulae, the Horsehead Nebula. Locate the star Alnitak, from Orion’s belt and then go almost half a degree south (or north if you’re looking up from the southern hemisphere), it’s just off the left side of the image is the bright star ζ Orionis. It’s nearly 1,600 light years away from us. Its reddish appearance is due to gas heating up because of starlight, reaching a temperature of 10,000°K.
|The Horsehead Nebula|
The Orionid meteor shower reaches its peak during the morning hours of October 20 to October 22 each year, this year, the Moon will be in its first quarter phase on the night of October 21 (more information on the phases of the moon can be found here).
|Radiant Point of the Orionids Meter Shower|
This constellation shows us both the death and the birth of star. The Orion nebula is what you'd call a nursery where baby stars are coming into existence while stars like Betelgeuse (Orion's left shoulder) and Rigel (Orion's right foot) have entered their dying phase.
Part 2: The Mythology
Orion was the son of Neptune (Greek god of the water and the sea), he was a handsome giant and a mighty hunter. His father gave him the power of walking on the sea’s surface.
|Orion - Son of Neptune|
Orion was in love with Merope, daughter of Oenopion, king of Chios, and sought her in marriage but Oenopion constantly deferred his consent, pushing Orion to gain possession of the maiden by violence. That only enraged the king, who deprived him of his sight.
While blind, Orion followed the sound of the Cyclopes’ hammer until he reached Lemnos, a Greek island in the northern Aegean Sea, where the Greek god of fire, Vulcan, took pity on him and gave him one of his mean Kedalion, who guided Orion to the East to meet the sun-god who restored his sight.
Later on, Orion met Diana, the goddess of hunting and the moon, and it was rumored that the two of them will get married, but Diana’s twin-brother Apollo, disapproved. So, one day, while Orion was wading in the sea, only his head above the water, Apollo spotted him and then challenged his sister to shoot the figure in the sea that she didn’t recognize, claiming that she couldn’t make the shot. Yet, she fatally did.
|Diana crying over Orion's body - This 116x152 com painting hangs|
in the Paintings Department in the Louvre, Paris, France
The waves rolled the dead body of Orion to land, and grieving her fatal mistake, Diana placed him among the stars, where he appears as the giant he was, equipped with a girdle (the belt), and his sword. Sirius, his dog, follows him; Sirius is the brightest star in the constellation of Canis Major (or the big dog), and also the brightest star in the night sky. The Pleiades (seven stars in the constellation of Taurus) also fly before him in the sky.
|Orion and his dogs Canis Major and Canis Minor|
The Pleiades were nymphs of Diana’s train, which Jupiter turned to pigeons and placed in the sky.
Part 3: The Mystery - The Correlation Theory
The correlation theory was first put forward during the late 1980s, by Bauval. It consisted of proving that the three pyramids of Giza were, in fact, images of the three stars of Orion's belt.
An other air shaft pointing South reaches Sirius, or in the ancient Egyptian world, Isis, Osiris' love interest, that directly shines over the Pharaoh's wife's tomb.
|The Pyramids of Giza|
Bauval spent his time working on Pyramid texts, the oldest texts known to mankind and making observations to help him prove that the Pyramids are a replica of Osiris, the Egyptian version of Orion, that create the Pharaoh's getaway to the heavens, with great astronomical precision. Let's talk about the concrete proof:
- The three pyramids aren't perfectly aligned, one of the pyramids, is just like the star Mintaka, slightly to the East
- The orientation of the pyramids relatively to the Nile mimic the orientation of the constellation of Orion relatively to the Milky Way
- One of the two air shafts of the Great Pyramid points directly towards Orion
- The Sphinx directly faces the East. On the vernal equinox, it witnesses the rising of the constellation Leo (the Lion) and the Sun.
There are two main air shafts in the Great Pyramid, one that points South and the other North. The one that points South is specifically oriented towards Orion, but this constellation, to the Egyptians was Osiris, god of rebirth. In the way that the Pharaoh's tomb is positioned, his soul would get a sense of direction in order to get resurrected.
|Air shafts inside the Great Pyramid pointing towards the constellations|
The air shaft pointing towards the North specifically points towards Thuban, a star in the constellation of Draco, the Dragon. Thuban, 2000 years BC was the northern star. In our lifetime, the northern star in Ursa Minor’s Polaris, these changes occur because of planet Earth’s recession. The Earth “wobbles” due to its imperfect shape, and because of the gravitational forces applied on the planet both by the moon and the sun. So, the Earth’s axis shifts its direction every 26,000 years.In 14,000 years, the norther star will be Vega from the constellation Lyra. Astronomers call these stars circumpolar meaning that they’re visible all year long.
|The rotation of the Earth's axis|
However, skeptics have strongly disagreed with Bauval's work, mainly focusing on answered questions, for instance, the position of the pyramids relative to northern and southern coordinates perfectly fit, but the image of the Orion constellation is flipped upside down in order to perfectly mirror the pyramids.