Every year in late April, the famous constellation Orion is descending in the southwest to west in the hours after sunset, soon to disappear for another season.
In the Northern Hemisphere, we think of Orion as a winter constellation. It goes behind the sun every summer. The constellation is still very noticeable now for its bright stars and its distinctive pattern on the sky’s dome.
To find Orion, look first for three stars in a short, straight row. These stars represent Orion’s Belt.
Finally, look for a cloud in space, a nebula where new stars are being born, located in the direction of the constellation Orion. It’s called the Orion Nebula, also known as M42. You’ll find it in both photos and the chart at the top of this post. Look for the Sword of Orion, a graceful curved line of stars that appear to “hang” from Orion’s Belt. The Orion Nebula is about midway down in Orion’s Sword. It looks like a hazy star.
Binoculars or small telescopes will reveal the beautiful Orion Nebula in more detail, if you have a dark-enough sky. Will you spot the nebula in a twilight or early evening sky on these April evenings? The only way to know for sure is to look.
Bottom line: If you didn’t come to know it this winter, check out constellation Orion in April as it descends in the southwest to west after sunset. It’s one of the most distinctive of all star patterns. You can see its brightest stars, Betelgeuse and Rigel – and maybe the Orion Nebula!