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Orion the Hunter: Ghost of the summer dawn

In late July and early August, watch for the three medium-bright "Belt" stars of Orion the Hunter to ascend over your eastern horizon shortly before dawn.

Tonight is Jul 31, 2014

Moon Phase Courtesy U.S. Naval Observatory

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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.

Matthew Chin in Hong Kong caught this photo of Orion and Taurus on July 26, 2014.

View larger. | Matthew Chin in Hong Kong caught this photo of the constellations Orion and Taurus on July 26, 2014. Hong Kong is at about 22 degrees N. latitude. Visit Matthew Chin on Facebook.

Another shot of 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 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.

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