Looking Up: The Great Bright Hunter

Jan 23, 2017

This week on Looking Up guest host Bruce Bookout presents this month's archeo-astronomy lesson  on Orion.

Orion the ancient hunter
Credit evilestmark / openclipart.org

Rising high in the winter skies of southern Colorado is the great hunter of the sky - Orion.  Look after sunset to the east for three bright stars in a row surrounded by a rectangle of four other bright stars.  Let’s hunt through the world on Orion’s legend.

The current name “Orion” comes from Greek mythology, in which Orion was a gigantic, supernaturally strong hunter, born to the huntress Queen Euryale of the Amazons and the Ocean god Poseidon.  One myth recounts Gaia's rage at Orion, who dared to say that he would hunt every animal on the planet.  The angry goddess tried to dispatch Orion with a giant scorpion.  This is the explanation for the constellations Scorpius and Orion never being in the sky at the same time.  Makes you wonder who is the hunter and who is the hunted.

The earliest depiction of Orion is on a prehistoric mammoth ivory carving dating back approximately 35,000 years ago. 

In ancient Egypt, the stars of Orion were regarded as the god Sah.

Known as Cernunnos in Celtic mythology, he was a god of fertility, life, animals, wealth, and the underworld.

Here in the Americas, Orion had many depictions.  The Chippewa call this constellation the Winter Maker, as its presence in the night sky heralds winter.  The Navajo see Orion as the First Slender One representing protection, pictured as standing tall, his bow poised to launch an arrow.  To the Lakota, Orion’s Belt is the spine of a bison. The great rectangle of Orion is the bison's ribs; the Pleiades star cluster in nearby Taurus is the bison’s head; and Sirius is its tail.  That was somewhat of a beefy description.

Orion was seen as the First Father to the Maya, also known as The Maize god, the father of the Hero Twins that were fundamental in their cosmology. 

If you’d like to take a closer look at Orion, or any of the other wonderful and amazing things in the sky, please visit CSASTRO.org for a link to information on our monthly meetings and our free public star parties! 

This is Bruce Bookout for the Colorado Springs Astronomical Society, telling you to keep looking up, Southern Colorado!