The constellations of winter are simply the best. Nowhere else in the Shamokin night sky will you see as many bright stars and bright constellations packed so closely together. The constellation Orion is the best of the best in my book! I know you’ve seen it, even if you didn’t know what you were looking at. If you randomly ask somebody to name a constellation, chances are they’ll say the Big Dipper or Orion. Technically, the Big Dipper isn’t actually a constellation. It’s just part of the larger constellation Ursa Major or the Big Bear. The Big Dipper outlines the derriere and tail of the bear and is undoubtedly the brightest part of the constellation. Orion, however, is a complete constellation. At first glance, it may remind you of an hourglass, with the neck made up of a short straight line of three bright stars.

According to Greek and Roman mythology, the three stars in a row make up the belt of the hermit hunter, and the hourglass is the outline of Orion’s torso. This time of year my favorite constellation, my celestial buddy, begins the evening in the southeastern sky after evening twilight and forges his way westward through the rest of the night. By around 4 am Orion slips below the western horizon. It’s appropriate that we see Orion during most of these long winter nights because, according to mythology, he was a half-god, half-mortal who slept by day and hunted by night. I’ll have more on the legend of Orion in next week’s Skywatch column.

Mike Lynch is an amateur astronomer and retired broadcast meteorologist for WCCO Radio in Minneapolis/St. Paul. He is the author of “Stars: a Month by Month Tour of the Constellations,” published by Adventure Publications and available at bookstores and adventurepublications.net . Mike is available for private star parties. You can contact him at mikewlynch@comcast.net .

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