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Last night around 3 am, I grudgingly stumbled outside to the outhouse. It had been overcast when we went to bed earlier, but when I looked up, I saw that the clouds had cleared off. I switched off my headlamp, and stood in the yard beneath a breathtaking canopy of stars.
Low on the horizon, I could see my favourite constellation, Orion. I love this one because it is so easy to spot, from anywhere in the world. The perfection in the way the belt stars line up blows my mind. And the total absence of light pollution where we live means that Orion's nebula is really easy to see with the naked eye, and even more stunning with magnification.
This constellation derives its name from Greek mythology. There are several versions of the story, but the one I've seen most often goes like this: Orion was a giant and a famed hunter, said to have descended from the sea-god Poseidon. Due to his heritage, it was believed he could walk along the bottom of the sea.
He fell in love with a woman named Merope, who lived on the island of Chios. One night while drunk, he became violent and forced himself upon her. In anger, her father Oenopion blinded him. Orion made his way east, into the rays of the sun, which restored his sight.
On his way back to the island to seek revenge, he met Artemis, the goddess of the hunt. They fell in love, and some stories claim she intended to marry him. Apollo, Artemis' brother, was concerned for her chastity, and so one day, while Orion was out walking in the sea, Apollo challenged Artemis to hit a black spot bobbing in the waves (Orion's head). Not realizing it was her love, Artemis rose to the challenge, and killed him. Grieved, she implored Zeus to immortalize Orion in the stars.
Orion is followed by Sirius, the dog star, and this is another of my favourites. One of the brightest objects in the sky, Sirius sparks and flashes with colour. In mythology, Sirius is one of Orion's favourite hunting dogs.
Am I just a total geek, or do you have a favourite constellation, too? What do you love to see in the night sky?