Orion’s Belt is perhaps the most famous of the constellations. Even if you know next to nothing about stars and their constellations, you will have heard of Orion’s Belt. You might even know a little about its story and how it looks.
Orion’s Belt is a very simple constellation, so it’s a little tricky to spot. Unlike some constellations that have a very complex style, Orion’s Belt is only three stars in a row. So, how do you find Orion’s Belt?
The Position of Orion’s Belt
Orion’s Belt is visible in both the Southern and Northern Hemispheres. Finding the position of Orion’s Belt will depend on where you are in the world. The stars of Orion’s Belt are easy to spot as they are very bright.
Unless you have a pretty sure understanding of navigation, you might want to get a compass out to help you to find Orion’s Belt. If you are in the Northern Hemisphere, cast your gaze towards the Southwest of the sky.
If you are in the Southern Hemisphere, look toward the Northwest of the sky. If you are on or close to the equator, the belt will be in the exact West of the sky.
This is a general guide as your exact position on the Earth will determine where exactly you will be able to see Orion’s Belt. If you are still struggling, there are lots of apps and charts available online that can give you some more guidance.
The Stars of Orion’s Belt
Orion’s Belt is also known as The Belt of Orion, The Three Sisters, and The Three Kings. This is due to the stories the stars and the constellation are associated with. But what are the scientific names for the stars that make up Orion’s Belt?
The stars of Orion’s belt are Alnilam, Mintaka, and Alnitak. Unless you already know a fair bit about stars and star constellations, you might not be familiar with these names. You definitely won’t hear them as often as you will hear “Orion’s Belt”.
These are all complex and fascinating stars. In fact, Alnitak and Mintaka are actually made up of multiple other stars. To give you a better idea of what Orion’s Belt is exactly made up of, here are some basics about these three stars:
Alnilam is a large blue supergiant star. A blue supergiant star is a hot and luminous star. Blue supergiant stars are larger than the sun.
But Alnilam looks smaller than the Sun because it is 2,000 light-years away. Whereas the sun is 8.3 light minutes away.
As mentioned above, Mintaka is made up of several stars. This system is known as a “star system” or a “stellar system”. The stars that make up Mintaka are bound to each others’ gravity and orbit around each other.
Although from the Earth Orion’s Belt looks like three stars lined up next to each other, Alnilam, Mintaka, and Alnitak are actually pretty far away from each other. Mintaka is 1,200 light-years away and so is the closest of the stars and star systems that make up Orion’s Belt.
Alnitak is also made up of multiple stars but it is a slightly different system to Mintaka. Alnitak is a triple star system. This means that it is made up of only three stars that orbit each other.
The primary of these three stars is known as Alnitak Aa which is a blue supergiant. Alnitak is slightly further away than Mintaka at 1,262 light-years away.
The Story of Orion’s Belt
Orion’s Belt is the name of the constellation that Alnilman, Mintaka, and Alnitak make up. But, as you will have noticed from some of the language above, it is not a scientific name.
Constellations are cultural classifications, rather than scientific. Because of this, the name for this constellation changes as you move across the world and through millennia. There is no true name for this constellation as they have been categorized and created by poets, farmers, and astrologists.
But, if you are reading this article, you will know of this constellation as Orion’s Belt. So, who was Orion and what is the story that inspired this name? Orion’s Belt is named after the great hunter Orion and, as you have probably guessed, takes its name from the fact that it looks like a belt.
In Greek mythology, Orien is the son of Poseidon, the god of the sea, and Euryale, the daughter of King Minos of Crete. This means that Orion was a demigod. In literature, Orion appears as a hunter.
Orion appears in several works that detail versions of Greek myths. These include Homer's Odyssey, Hesiod’s Works and Days, as well as many other retellings and reimaginings.
Due to the nature of mythology, there are many different versions of Orion’s story. One of the most well-known stories involves Orion raping a woman named Merope and subsequently being blinded by her father. He then recovers his sight at Lemnos and hunts with Artemis, the goddess of the hunt.
His death comes about either by his being shot with an arrow by Artemis or by being stung by a giant scorpion. This scorpion then becomes Scorpio (which you will recognize as one of the constellations of the Zodiac). Orion then ascends to the heavens and it is his belt that we (supposedly) see in the sky.
As Orion’s Belt can be seen from across the world, the constellation and its stars have many different names across many different cultures.
Some cultures do not associate the constellation with Greek mythology but with Christianity instead. Some other names for Orion’s Belt include:
- Atse Ats’oosi (Navajo for “Slim One”)
- Drie Konings/Three Kings (South Africa for “Three Kings)
- The Pot and the Saucepan (Australia - although it is also known as Orion’s Belt here)
- Las Tres Marías/The Three Marias (Spanish for “The Three Marias”)
- As Trȇs Marias (Portugese for “The Three Marias”)
- Los Tres Reyes Magos (The Three Kings - Puerto Rico and the Philippines)