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Focus on stars Betelgeuse and Rigel in Orion

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Tonight for December 2, 2014

Photo of the constellation Orion by Flickr user jpstanley

Tonight … look for Orion the Hunter, one of the easiest constellations to identify in the night sky. Many constellations have a single bright star, but the majestic constellation Orion can boast of two: Rigel and Betelgeuse. You can’t miss these two brilliant beauties if you look eastward around 8 to 9 p.m. (your local time). Rigel and Betelgeuse reside on opposite sides of Orion’s Belt – three medium-bright stars in a short, straight row.

The star Rigel depicts Orion’s left foot. A blue-white supergiant and one of the most luminous stars known, it’s nearly 800 light-years away. If Rigel were as close as Sirius, the brightest star visible to the eye (and only about 8.6 light-years away), Rigel would shine much more brilliantly than Venus, our sky’s brightest planet.

Betelgeuse – the other bright star in Orion – represents the Hunter’s right shoulder. A red supergiant, Betelgeuse is no slouch of a star either. In fact, if Betelgeuse replaced the sun in our solar system, its outer layers would extend past Earth and Mars and to nearly the orbit of Jupiter.

Although – in 2014 – the moon will light up the evening sky until it turns full on December 6, you’ll have no problem picking out the constellation Orion.

On a night when the moon is down, you might want to look at the magnificent Orion Nebula, or M42, the fuzzy patch in Orion’s Sword.

Image Credit: scalleja

Image Credit: scalleja

Bottom line: Many constellations have a bright star, but Orion has two: Rigel and Betelgeuse. You’ll also easily recognize Orion by its “Belt” stars, three medium-bright stars in a short, straight row.