Before they disappear, watch for Orion and Sirius

One very easy pattern to find at this time of year is the magnificent constellation Orion the Hunter, now descending in the west after sunset. Orion is easy to find because it contains a very noticeable pattern of three medium-bright stars in a short straight row. These stars represent Orion’s Belt. If you can find Orion, you can use it to star hop to Sirius, the sky’s brightest star, in the constellation Canis Major.

As Earth revolves around the sun, both the constellation Orion and the star Sirius are about to disappear for a while. They always drop into the sun’s glare shortly after this time of year, as Earth’s motion brings the sun between us and them. So be sure to look for them while you can, soon after the sun goes down. And know that – as Earth continues to move in orbit around the sun – Orion and Sirius will return to our sky. We’ll see them next in the east before dawn, beginning around late July or early August.

By the way, people learning to recognize the stars often use star hopping – going from stars and constellations they know to ones they don’t know – to find and recognize new stars and constellations. That is, they look for noticeable patterns on the sky’s dome, and find other patterns in relationship to the first one. The use of Orion’s Belt to find Sirius is one of the best-known star hops in the sky … because the stars are so bright and noticeable and the pattern is so definite. Give it a try before Orion and Sirius sink out of view!

Star field above building roof with long red arrow from pointer stars to Polaris.
View larger. | Here’s another example of star hopping. The 2 outer stars in the bowl of the Big Dipper always point to Polaris, the North Star. Photo by EarthSky Facebook friend Abhijit Juvekar. Thank you, Abhijit!

Bottom line: Orion the Hunter is one of the sky’s most noticeable constellations. Sirius is the sky’s brightest star. As Earth revolves around the sun, they’re both about to disappear for a while. Here’s how to star hop from Orion’s Belt to Sirius.

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April 11, 2021

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