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Orion the Hunter: Ghost of the summer dawn

Next year - in late July 2013 - Orion and Taurus will return to the morning sky but no planets will be in front of Taurus the bull

Tonight for July 31, 2014

EarthSky’s meteor shower guide for 2014

Everything you need to know: Perseid meteor shower

If you’re up early, and have an unobstructed view to the east, be sure to look in that direction in the hour before dawn. You’ll surely see the bright planet Venus, which returned to the morning sky in January 2014 and has been putting on a dazzling show at dawn for early-morning risers. And, if you look to the right of Jupiter along the eastern predawn horizon, you’ll also find a familiar figure – a constellation that is always in this part of the sky on late summer mornings. It’s the beautiful constellation Orion the Hunter – recently behind the sun as seen from our earthly vantage point – now ascending once more in the east before sunrise.

The Hunter appears each northern winter as a mighty constellation arcing across the south during the evening hours. Many people see it then, and notice it, because the pattern of Orion’s stars is so distinctive.

But, at the crack of dawn in late summer, you can spot Orion in the east. Thus Orion has been called the ghost of the shimmering summer dawn. The Hunter rises on his side, with his three Belt stars – Mintaka, Alnitak and Alnilam – pointing straight up.

The constellation Orion the Mighty Hunter as viewed at morning dawn in early August 2011. Image credit: Micheal C. Rael

Also, notice the star Aldebaran in the constellation Taurus the Bull. Aldebaran is the brightest star in Taurus the Bull. It’s said to be the Bull’s fiery red eye. See the V-shaped pattern of stars around Aldebaran? This pattern represents the Bull’s face. In skylore, Orion is said to be holding up a great shield . . . fending off the charging Bull. Can you imagine this by looking at the chart at right? It’s easy to imagine when you look at the real sky on a late summer morning.

The return of Orion and Taurus to the predawn sky happens in late July or early August every year.

Bottom line: In the wee hours before daybreak, be on the watch for one especially bright planet – Venus – in the east before dawn. To the right of Venus, you’ll find Orion the Hunter: Ghost of the summer dawn.