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Bellatrix, Orion’s third brightest star, means Female Warrior

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Tonight for December 18, 2014

The third brightest star in Orion, Bellatrix, is often overlooked. And yet Bellatrix is such a wonderful star. You can easily see it this evening, especially since there is no moon to obscure the view. However, if you’re an early riser, though, be sure to catch the waning crescent moon pairing up with the planet Saturn low in the southeast sky before dawn on December 19.

See the waning crescent moon pairing up with the planet Saturn before sunrise on Friday, December 19.

See the waning crescent moon pairing up with the planet Saturn before sunrise on Friday, December 19.

According to Richard Hinckley Allen’s classic book Star Names: Their Lore and Meaning, the Latin name “Bellatrix” means “Female Warrior,” which some find odd since the original Arabic title translates as “Conqueror.” But women understand. Bellatrix represents Orion’s left shoulder. Although it appears only as the 22nd brightest star in our heavens, in reality it is a hot, blue giant some 240 light-years away.

Also look for Saiph, which is the right knee counterpart to Rigel, the left knee in Orion. The four stars, Betelgeuse, Rigel, Bellatrix and Saiph form the familiar rectangle of Orion. Saiph is a blazing hot supergiant star 720 light-years away.

By the way, on December 2, we talked about Orion’s two brightest stars. So look back if you missed reading about them.

The constellation Orion takes center stage this month and rightly so. With an inordinate number of bright stars, it is one of the most prominent constellations in the sky. But don’t overlook Orion’s third brightest star, Bellatrix, as Orion climbs over the eastern horizon around 7 to 8 p.m. local time

December 2014 guide to the five visible planets