Late November evenings bring cool weather and the return of Orion, one of the most beautiful of all constellations. It climbs into good view by about 8 or 9 p.m., depending on your location, with its "belt" of three moderately bright stars pointing up from the horizon. Several other bright stars and constellations join the hunter in that region of the sky, and this year, so does the planet Jupiter, which outshines all of the true stars around it.
Late November brings an abundance of treats, including Thanksgiving, college football’s biggest rivalry games, and cool nights. And the sky offers a treat of its own to enjoy during those chilly evenings: the return of Orion. The hunter is in full view in the east by 8:30 or 9. Look for his “belt” of three stars pointing almost straight up from the horizon, with a bright orange star to the left and a blue one to the right.
The Belt makes Orion one of the easiest constellations to find. From top to bottom as Orion climbs into view, its stars are Mintaka, Alnilam, and Alnitak.
The three stars don’t just look impressive, they really are some of the more impressive stars in our region of galaxy.
Mintaka actually consists of two brilliant stars, while Alnilam and Alnitak are single. All four stars are much bigger, brighter, and heavier than the Sun. They’re hundreds of light-years away, so they’re among the most distant of all the bright stars in the sky.
And all are destined to shine even brighter — but only for a while. They’ll end their lives with titanic explosions known as supernovae. For a few weeks, each of them will outshine everything else in the night sky except the Moon.
For now, watch Orion climb skyward during the evening and soar high across the south during the night. The hunter will rise a few minutes earlier each night, giving us even more time to appreciate this astronomical treat as we head toward Christmas.
Script by Damond Benningfield, Copyright 2012
For more skywatching tips, astronomy news, and much more, read StarDate magazine.