Orion, in my opinion, is by far the best constellation in the Northwest sky. It’s so bright and well defined. As soon as evening begins it will be there, proudly shining in the southeast sky, resembling a giant crooked bow tie or a tilted hourglass.
The three bright stars in a perfect row that make up Orion’s belt really jump out at you.
While Orion the hunter is certainly rich astronomically, the mythological legend of the mighty hunter is equally as rich. He’s even mentioned in the Bible three times. Many different cultures have their own story of this ancient constellation and most of them have him as an imposing character, which is no surprise considering the show the constellation puts on in our celestial dome.
My favorite tale trickles down from Greek and Roman mythology and involves Artemis, the goddess of the moon. Orion the hunter was a rather shy giant, so he moved to a large but deserted island where he could hunt and fish. He stalked and hunted by night and slept under a giant tree by day.
The hermit hunter was living his dream. He also had a secret admirer, Artemis, the great moon goddess. Every night Artemis guided her moon chariot with magical flying horses,
Artemis really wanted to be with her unsuspecting lover, but she held back because she knew that would get her in a lot of trouble with her father, Zeus, the king of the gods.
Artemis would be ignoring her duties as moon goddess, but much worse than that, gods and goddesses were not to mix with mortals.
One night Artemis couldn’t take it anymore and headed down to Orion’s island. It was love at first sight and Artemis hunted with Orion all night. When dawn approached she jumped back up to the moon chariot and raced it to the horizon.
The next night she halted the moon in midsky again and joined her new love for another night of hunting, returning again at dawn.
Zeus found out but he didn’t want to lose the love of his daughter so he arranged to have Orion killed by a giant scorpion as he slept in the day.
Orion was warned, however, and awoke to do battle with the scorpion. The battle went on for hours until Orion was distracted as he saw Artemis rising with the moon in the East. The scorpion struck and killed Orion.
Artemis raced to the scene, grabbed the scorpion by the tail and flung it so far into the sky that it became the constellation Scorpius the Scorpion. Artemis then gathered Orion into her arms and flew off to the sky. When she was high enough she gently tossed Orion a little higher in the sky, turning him into a bright constellation.
She made sure that Orion was on the opposite side of the sky from the scorpion that assassinated him. That’s why we never see the constellations Orion and Scorpius in the sky at the same time.
Mike Lynch is an astronomer and professional broadcast meteorologist for WCCO Radio in Minneapolis and is author of the book, “Washington Starwatch,” available at bookstores. Check his website, www.lynchandthestars.com.
The Everett Astronomical Society: www.everettastro.org/.