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Blue-white Rigel is at the foot of Orion

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Tonight for February 16, 2015

Yesterday, we talked about Orion’s bright star Betelgeuse. Today … its bright star Rigel.

Before you can find Rigel, you need to know how to find Orion. The three sparkling blue-white stars of Orion’s Belt are easy to spot. As viewed from the Northern Hemisphere, this compact line of stars can be found in the south to southeast sky at nightfall. It is more toward the northern sky for observers in the Southern Hemisphere. No matter where you are, if you look outside in the evening now, chances are the pattern you’ll pick out will be Orion!

Let Jupiter guide you to Orion and its bright stars in February 2014.

See Mercury in the sunset direction on February 5, 2014.

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You might note that Orion’s two brightest stars – Betelgeuse and Rigel – lodge at an equal distance above and below Orion’s Belt. Rigel is shown on today’s chart. Look back at yesterday’s chart to see Betelgeuse.

Look again at Rigel. Because it lies some 775 light-years away, Rigel must be intrinsically extraordinarily luminous to shine so brightly in our sky. If this star were as close as our sun, it would outshine the sun by 40,000 times!

Although both Rigel and Betelgeuse are extremely luminous supergiant suns, the stark color contrast between these two stars makes Betelgeuse and Rigel readily distinguishable. (Try binoculars, if you can’t distinguish color with the unaided eye.) Betelgeuse has a reddish hue, while Rigel sparkles blue-white. By the way, a star’s color is very revealing of its surface temperature. Red stars are cool (2,000 to 3,500 Kelvin) and in the autumn of their years, while blue and blue-white stars are hot (over 10,000 K) and young, in the heyday of youth.

Astronomers believe both red and blue supergiant stars blow up into supernova explosions, though at one time it was thought that only red supergiants did so. Look for Rigel, Orion’s blue supergiant star, at the foot of Orion tonight!

On February 2014 evenings, the Orion stars Betelgeuse and Rigel line up, or nearly line up, with the dazzling planet Jupiter.

In February 2014, the Orion stars Betelgeuse and Rigel line up, or nearly line up, with the dazzling planet Jupiter.

Let Jupiter guide you to Orion and its bright stars in February 2014. If you’re unfamiliar with the constellation Orion, in 2014 you can let the super brilliant planet Jupiter help you. Jupiter is the brightest starlike object in the evening sky, and it’s near Orion now in the sky. In fact, the stars Betelgeuse and Rigel – brightest stars in Orion – line up, or nearly so, with Jupiter on these February 2014 nights.

See Mercury in the sunset direction in early February 2014. The bow of the crescent moon points toward it at dusk and/or nightfall.

See Mercury in the sunset direction in early February 2014. The bow of the crescent moon points toward it at dusk and/or nightfall.

See Mercury in the sunset direction on February 5, 2014. The planet Mercury – innermost planet of the solar system – is up in the west after sunset on these February 2014 evenings. Many people never see Mercury because it stays near the sun in our sky. To catch it, the, look west and close to the sunset point on the horizon 60 to 75 minutes after sunset. Binoculars may be helpful. Because both the moon and Mercury reside near the ecliptic – the pathway of the moon and planets – the “bow” of the waxing crescent moon will be pointing in the general direction of Mercury.

Bottom line: This post describes how to locate Orion’s bright blue-white star Rigel. And it tells you how to find Orion using Jupiter on these February 2014 evenings. Plus … it’s not too late to look for Mercury after sunset.

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