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  • Elizabeth Cocking

Did you know? Orion's Belt

Located in the constellation of Orion the Hunter, his belt is unmistakeable in the night sky.

Orion’s belt consists of three evenly spaced stars and is the most conspicuous feature of the constellation. They form an almost straight line, which makes them easy to identify.

. Alnitak, or Zeta Orionis, the easternmost star in Orion’s belt.

. Alnilam, or Epsilon Orionis, located in the middle of Orion’s belt.

. Mintaka, or Delta Orionis, the westernmost star in Orion’s belt.

Constellation Orion, image Andrew Wood

The celestial equator passes close to the upper star of the belt meaning that half of Orion is in the Northern hemisphere and the other half is in the Southern hemisphere.

Below the belt is a curved line of 3 stars, which represent the giant’s sword. The middle star is not actually a star but M42 the Orion Nebula, a huge cloud of dust and gas inside which new stars are being formed. It is 1,344 light years distant and almost 25 light-years across.

Many cultures have different names for the Belt of Orion. The English names include Jacob's Staff, Our Lady's Wand and the Three Kings. In Spanish it is known as Las Tres Marías (The Three Mary’s) and in Australian indigenous folklore the three stars represent three brothers in a canoe chasing a group of sisters represented by the Pleiades constellation.

The stars formed in the same molecular cloud and are roughly the same age. Alnitak and Mintaka lie at a similar distance of about 1,200 light-years from the Sun, while Alnilam lies approximately 2,000 light-years away.


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