Orion the Hunter returns before dawn

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Around 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 – the beautiful constellation Orion the Hunter – recently behind the sun as seen from our earthly vantage point and now ascending once more in the east before sunrise. The Hunter rises on his side, with his three Belt stars – Mintaka, Alnitak and Alnilam – pointing straight up. In 2020, there’s a very bright object not far from the Hunter, also in the east before sunup. It’s the planet Venus. Watch for them both.

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.

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Sky chart with arrow from Orion's Belt to the star Aldebaran, with Pleiades, Rigel, and Betelgeuse labeled.

Whenever you see the constellation Orion, look also for the bright red star Aldebaran. Orion’s Belt always points to Aldebaran. Extending that line takes you generally toward the Pleiades, or Seven Sisters. Look east before sunrise in late July and August for these stars. Check Stellarium for the view at your location.

Also, notice the star Aldebaran in the constellation Taurus the Bull. Aldebaran is the brightest star in Taurus the Bull. It’s said to represent the fiery Eye of the Bull.

In a dark sky, you can see a 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. It’s easy to imagine when you look eastward before sunup at this time of year, or anytime you spot Orion.

Photo: bright stars of Orion seen to the side and over a round dark hill.

The constellation Orion as viewed at morning dawn in early August. Image via Flickr user Michael C. Rael.

Bottom line: The return of Orion and Taurus to your predawn sky happens around late July or early August every year. In the Northern Hemisphere, Orion is sometimes called the ghost of the summer dawn.

Deborah Byrd