Orion’s Belt and the Big Dipper are two separate asterisms in our night sky.
An asterism is a group of stars present in the night sky. Asterisms can be anything from straightforward shapes made up of small numbers of stars to large collections of stars covering huge areas of the night sky.
Huge, bright asterisms are great for people who are starting to learn about the night sky.
Orion’s Belt and The Big Dipper are famous asterisms, with The Big Dipper being one of the largest, brightest asterisms in the night sky. Read on to find out more about these two amazing asterisms.
What Is Orion’s Belt?
Orion’s Belt is one of the most famous asterisms, alongside the Big Dipper and the Southern Cross.
It is made up of three huge, bright stars in our galaxy, within the constellation Orion. Two out of three of these massive stars are supergiants.
How To Locate Orion’s Belt
Orion’s Belt is located on the celestial equator and is positioned within one of the most significant constellations in the North of the sky: Orion.
Orion is hour-glass shaped and visible in Northern latitudes between November and February. January is the best month to search for the asterism, at around 9 pm at night. Locating Orion’s Belt is the easiest method to find the entire Orion constellation.
To locate it, search for an hourglass shape and three stars that form the narrow part of the hourglass to form Orion’s Belt.
What Are The Stars Of Orion’s Belt?
Orion’s Belt has three evenly spaced stars that form a relatively straight line, making them pretty easy to find in the night sky.
As a result of their ease of identification, Orion’s Belt’s stars are part of many old myths.
The Ancient Egyptians associated Orion’s Belt with the symbol of Osiris. The Orion’s belt stars are not completely aligned, and their alignment is the same as the three pyramids of Giza.
Orion’s alignment to the Milky Way matches the pyramids’ alignment to the river Nile. Ancient Egyptians, therefore, believed that the three pyramids of Giza were the pharaohs’ gateway to heaven.
Orion was also linked with Unas, an Egyptian pharaoh of the fifth dynasty.
The Greeks linked the stars with the myth of Orion the hunter.
The constellations Canis Major and Canis Minor are associated with Orion the hunter’s dogs, and another constellation – Scorpius, is associated with a scorpion that stung Orion.
The three stars: Alnitak, Alnilam, and Mintaka
The three giant stars that make up Orion’s Belt are called Alnitak, Alnilam, and Mintaka.
It is theorized that the stars were formed from the same nebula in Orion, and in the same molecular cloud, around 4 million years ago.
This is believed because all three stars are around the same age. Alnitak and Mintaka are close together, whereas Alnilam is further away from Earth. The three stars are part of the Orion OB1b association, and they move together throughout space.
Alnitak, Alnilam, and Mintaka are referred to by distinct names across multiple cultures, such as The Weighing Beam in Chinese and
The Three Marys in Portuguese.
In the Philippines and Puerto Rico, the three stars are named Los Tres Reyes Magos, which refers to the Three Kings who visited baby Jesus on his birth date.
What Is The Big Dipper?
The Big Dipper is one of the most familiar, largest, and brightest asterisms in the night sky. It is part of the constellation Ursa Major.
The asterism, created by the seven brightest stars belonging to the Ursa Major constellation, is significant in many countries and cultures across the globe and is referred to by many different names such as the Great Wagon, the Plough, and the Saucepan.
The Big Dipper is easy to observe in the North of the night sky during the summer months and is one of the first asterisms that aspiring astronomers learn to locate.
How To Locate The Big Dipper
The Big Dipper itself is the most identifiable region of the constellation Ursa Major, which is the third biggest of all 88 constellations in the night sky.
The constellation covers a huge portion of the sky, yet the stars that mark the bear’s head, torso, legs, and feet are not as bright or easy to locate as the seven stars marking its tail and hindquarters (the Big Dipper).
To find the Big Dipper, look up into the northern sky. Locate a constellation that looks like a giant ladle and imagine a line from the two stars at the end of the Big Dipper’s bowl.
What Are The Stars Of The Big Dipper?
There are seven stars that form the Big Dipper in the night sky.
These are: Alkaid, Mizar, Alioth, Megrez, Phecda, Dubhe, and Merak . The first three of the seven stars form the handle (or the bear’s tail) of the Big Dipper, and the last four stars mark the Big Dipper’s bowl (or the bear’s hindquarters).
The names given to the stars that are part of the Big Dipper refer to their location in the larger constellation Ursa Major. The brightest star in both the Big Dipper asterism and the entire Ursa Major constellation is the third star: Alioth.
Alioth is also the 32nd brightest star in the whole night sky.
Five stars out of the seven Big Dipper stars are also part of the Ursa Major Moving Group, or Collinder 285. This is a group of stars that share a similar origin, velocity, and motion.
Orion’s Belt and the Big Dipper are two separate asterisms that form part of bigger constellations.
They are both historically valuable and are identified in the night sky by their distinct shapes. Asterisms and constellations were very important to ancient civilizations and still have a wealth of cultural significance to this day.
Much of the time, spotting asterisms can help in locating the larger constellations they belong to.
Studying the night sky begins with learning to identify famous asterisms and constellations, which can then be observed and appreciated for the magnificent star patterns they formed over millions of years.
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