The Winter's Night Sky
Orion is important to skiers for it heralds the beginning
of winter. In the snow country of the United States and
Canada, Orion is not visible in October. But in November, in
the early evening hours, it rises above the eastern horizon.
When we first catch of glimpse of Orion in evening, we
know that winter is on its way.
By December, Orion is in mid-sky, marching nobly to the
Southeast. By January, it is high in the southern sky. By
March, in the waning days of winter, it is moving to the
west horizon or, in Tennyson’s words, “Great Orion sloping
slowly to the west.”
Various stories have come down to us about Orion, but
he is usually described as a hunter or warrior, the son
of the sea god, Poseidon. He had the ability to walk on
water. In one version of his story, he was stung to death
by a scorpion for his cockiness and boastfulness. Artemis,
one of the daughters of Zeus, was his lover and hunting
companion. After his death, she had him placed in the
sky so that he sets in the west as Scorpius, Orion’s slayer(and a constellation of the summer),
appears in the east.
Orion is accompanied in the sky
by his two loyal dogs: Canis Major
(the Great Dog) and Canis Minor
(the Lesser Dog). Canis Major is
easy to find in January and February
because it contains the brightest
star of the night sky. To find it, face
directly toward Orion’s belt of three
stars. Connect the three stars with aline and extend it toward the lower
left (toward the horizon). The line
points directly to Sirius.
It takes some imagination to get a
dog out of the combination of stars in
this area. Think of the star Sirius as
an enormous diamond in the Great
Dog’s collar, and from there you can
make out something of a short front
leg, a hind leg and a tail.
You can also use Orion to find
other adjacent constellations such
as Taurus (the Bull) and Gemini
(the Twins). For example, following
the three stars of his belt to the
right (upward in the sky) points to
the brightest star in Taurus. You’ll
see how this works and how to find
other constellations by looking at the following chart.
I was in a perfect location that night
to observe Orion and his companion constellations. A good portion of the
race course that I had been grooming
went across a farmer’s wheat field. It
was in a rural area with only a few
scattered farms and, from where Iwas situated on a rise in the middle
of the field, my view was unhampered
by light of any kind.