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Orion the Hunter returns before dawn

Meteors ahead! Everything you need to know: Perseid meteor shower

In late July and early August, 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 might find a familiar figure – a constellation that is always returning to the sky around this time of year. 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.

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The constellation Orion as viewed at morning dawn in early August. Image via Flickr user 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 before dawn at this time of year.

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

To see Orion, view larger. | Tim Herring in Boise, Idaho caught the brilliant planet Venus (upper left) and the constellation Orion (right) on July 29, 2017. He wrote: “Venus and the ghost of summer, Orion. Checking out the sky for early morning meteors while letting out the dogs, Venus was shining above Orion. Hiding in the slight cloud cover, the entire Hunter was hard to glimpse, but the camera caught him!”

Bottom line: In the wee hours before daybreak, look for Orion the Hunter. From the Northern Hemisphere, Orion is sometimes called the ghost of the summer dawn.

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EarthSky’s meteor shower guide for 2015

Deborah Byrd