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Hunter of winter.


Cold and snow can go into hiding for weeks. But over the Northern Hemisphere this time of year, Orion is never a no-show.

On a clear night, it's easy to pick out the majestic constellation, also called "The Hunter." Its angular hourglass shape is a bright and breathtaking constant as winter ticks by.

Knowing more about this constellation, which has long captivated observers, only adds to its wonder. The belt, which looks like three simple kindred stars cinching the midsection, actually consists of a two-star system, a distant blue supergiant, and a triple star - lined up from our vantage point just by chance. They are Mintaka, Alnilam, and Alnitak, and they point down to Sirius, the brightest star up there and part of the constellation Canis Major.

Other luminous Orion stars carry lovely names, such as Rigel and Betelgeuse.

The dying red supergiant Betelgeuse, though, might better have been named "Ginormous."

If it - the hunter's shoulder, in the upper left as we look at Orion - were our star instead of the sun, Earth's neighborhood, and even Mars', would be subsumed by Betelgeuse. Talk about crowding your personal bubble of space. We might have had to live on Pluto or somewhere, and that's not even a proper planet, apparently. (We are still bitter.)

Orion will shortly give up its silent winter watch. So, hunt him down this month, and let your eyes take in the whole starry ceiling he rules. The sky, especially away from city and suburban lights, is utterly awash with glimmery white specks.

If one falls on your nose, though, that's a snowflake.
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Title Annotation:EDITORIAL
Publication:Telegram & Gazette (Worcester, MA)
Article Type:Editorial
Date:Feb 12, 2012
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