David Aguilar(617) 495-7462 Christine Pulliam(617) 495-7463 pubaffairs@cfa
Sky Chart: March 2014
10:00 pm EDT on March 15, 2014. Looking at Zenith, South at Bottom. (click to enlarge)*
Who was this Orion guy, anyway? OK, we all know about the constellation of Orion as perhaps one of the most splendid and easily recognizable star patterns in the entire sky. But who was he, really? Carved mammoth-ivory figurines of Orion date back to the Aurignacian period 32,000 to 38,000 years ago, and his depictions are found in numerous cultures around the world. He was a shepherd figure among the Babylonians, and a god of the afterlife among the ancient Egyptians. A delightful Greek myth has him a hunter who boasted too much of his prowess; the goddess Gaia sent a Scorpion to kill him, which is why - in the sky - Orion and Scorpius never appear simultaneously. (In a twist, though, the Serpent-Bearer Ophiuchus used an antidote to revive Orion, which is why he in turn occupies a position in the sky between Orion and the Scorpion.) In modern depictions, Orion is drawn as a roughly rectangular figure with reddish Betelgeuse marking his right shoulder and blue-white Rigel his left knee. The three stars of his belt bisect the figure into upper and lower sections, and the famous Sword of Orion, home of the magnificent Orion Nebula (M42), hangs from his belt..