At nightfall and early evening, people at mid-northern latitudes see the dazzling planet Jupiter in the southeast sky, pretty much on line with the stars Betelgeuse and Rigel in the constellation Orion. Look to the lower right of Jupiter to see the constellation Orion and his famous Belt – three stars in a short, straight row – about halfway between the southern horizon and straight overhead. The Belt enables you to locate Betelgeuse, Orion’s supergiant red star. By mid-evening, you’ll find Orion the south, and around midnight, Orion will be in the southwest sky.
As seen from south of the equator at nightfall, Orion appears rather high in the northern sky. Jupiter is seen to the lower right of Orion, in the north to northeast sky. All the same, look for the stars Rigel and Betelgeuse to line up with Jupiter from anywhere worldwide.
You’ll have all evening and then some to see the dazzling planet Jupiter and the starlit constellation Orion the Hunter. But to catch the waxing crescent moon – and especially the planet Mercury – you need to look low in the west-southwest sky, starting an hour or so after sunset. Once you spot the moon, look for Mercury beneath the moon and close to the horizon with the unaided eye or binoculars. At mid-northern latitudes, Mercury sets about 90 minutes after the sun.
Even you miss Mercury and tonight’s moon, be assured that dazzling Jupiter and Orion won’t disappoint. North of Orion’s Belt, you’ll find one of the sky’s most famous stars, ruddy-hued Betelgeuse. Kids especially like Betelgeuse, because its name sounds so much like “beetle juice.” The movie by that same name perpetuated this pronunciation. But astronomers pronounce it differently. We say BET-el-jews.
People have described this star as “somber” or sometimes “grandfatherly.” That may be because of Betelgeuse’s ruddy complexion, which, as a matter of fact, indicates that this star is well into the autumn of its years. But Betelgeuse is no ordinary red star. It’s a magnificently rare red supergiant. According to Professor Jim Kaler – whose Stars website you should check out – there might be only one red supergiant star like Betelgeuse for every million or so stars in our Milky Way galaxy.
By the way, at this time of year, Betelgeuse’s constellation – Orion the Hunter – ascends to its highest point in the heavens around mid-evening, with the Hunter symbolically reaching the height of his powers. As night passes – with Earth turning eastward under the stars – Orion has his inevitable “fall,” shifting lower into the southwestern sky by late evening. Orion slowly heads westward throughout the evening hours and plunges beneath thewestern horizon in the wee hours after midnight.
By the way, Orion has another very bright star, called Rigel. As seen from northerly latitudes, blue-white Rigel sits below Orion’s Belt, while ruddy Betelgeuse stands above it.