Friday, January 20, 2012

More about Orion

Orion is the constellation that conjures the deepest imagination and wonder with just one glance. Something about the placement of the stars ties the entire picture together. Not to mention his 3-star-studded belt. Almost every culture in the ancient world associated these stars with a hunter, giant, or all-around he-man.

He was called by the Irish, Caomai, the armed king.
The Hebrews pictured Orion as Jacob wrestling the angel or the general Joshua.

Orion was called Praja-pati who took the form of a stag in pursuit of his own daughter (represented by the star Aldebaran in Taurus). The chase was slowed by the arrow stuck in Praja-pati’s midsection (Orion’s belt). This arrow was shot by the avenging hunter (the star Sirius).

Orion's Belt had its own myths:

  • In Greenland it was Three Seal Hunters Lost at Sea
  • Eskimos called it Three Steps Cut in a Snow Bank
  • To Australians these stars were Three Men Dancing
  • In Africa it was Three Pigs
  • And in the picture to the right, this is a picture of Orion as a blanket that I got in South America.  Notice it's upside down!

And there are sometimes where I look at the stars above and picture a particular rock n' roll icon with a snazzy belt and sparkly rhinestones. Instead of a club, he's holding a microphone. Yes, to me Orion is the Great Elvis in the Sky!  Look at that belt...

Monday, January 9, 2012


 “Biggest Little” Lunar Eclipse
Live From Reno, Nevada

On December 10, 2011 there was a total lunar eclipse – but nobody in Cincinnati could see it. It was only visible west of the Rocky Mountains so I decided to go to a city with a better angle on the eclipse: Reno, Nevada. As part of my work with the PBS show Star Gazers, the producers of the show (WPBT2 in Miami, Florida) wanted to try something unique. With the help of KNPB (Reno’s PBS station) we made a live webcast of the entire thing (at least until the Moon set).

I and fellow Star Gazer host, Marlene Hidalgo, gave a running commentary, answered questions from viewers and interviewed some special guests during the eclipse from 4:00-7:00am. The weather was perfect for viewing the eclipse from its start to totality when the Moon set behind the mountains west of Reno. I always love that first moment of the eclipse when the dark shadow of the Earth can first be seen on the Moon’s surface. But near before totality, it really turned orange fast. During totality the color wasn’t as dramatic. In fact I thought it to be a very gray eclipse. A lot of the redness increased as the Moon got lower in the sky. It was a great experience to chase this eclipse, and share it with so many people who couldn’t see it. You can find a sped up video of the eclipse at:

Next up, I plan on traveling out west twice more in 2012 - to observe the Annular Solar Eclipse on May 20 and the Transit of Venus on June 5. Astronomer: Have Telescope, Will Travel.

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.