Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Orion and me

© T. Credner & S. Kohle,

Many years ago, my beautiful dark-haired friend Nehama (an Outward Bound instructor) introduced me to Orion, on New Year's Eve, outside a honky-tonk in Flagstaff, Arizona.

As we looked up from the snow covered street she showed me a Native American warrior, chasing a buffalo across the mesa, his bright-eyed dog running behind him.

Orion is a huge celestial presence from Autumn to Spring. His belt, composed of three bright stars in a perfect line, is his signature. Find that, then you see the rest of him, shoulders, knees, club, bow (or shield) and sword.

Behind Orion is Canis Major, the great dog, in front of him Taurus, the bull. Sirius, the "Dog star" (named after the Egyptian dog-god Osiris) is the brightest star of the Northern Hemisphere. The V of Taurus' horns is obvious once you've seen it a few times. Dog, Hunter, Bull, moving across the galaxy, from eastern to western horizon.

The Disney version

Supergiant stars hundreds of times the size of our sun make up Orion's body: In his left shoulder you see the red star, Betelgeuse (bay-tel-juice); in his right knee the blue star Rigel (rye-jell.) Bellatrix, in his right shoulder, is known as the Female Warrior Star. The sword below his belt is in a "nebula" or cosmic cloud where new heavenly bodies are born.

The famous "Horsehead Nebula" courtesy of the Anglo-Australia Telescope
Here's one of many Orion myths:
Artemis loved the handsome Orion, a lover and hunter of great skill, but he was arrogant and annoyed the gods. Apollo deceived her into using Orion for target practice, and Artemis killed him with her arrow. In her grief she enshrined him in the heavens.

When I step outside my bedroom in the wee hours I can see them all, directly ahead of me, above the ocean. On some magical nights, Sirius illuminates a path from the edge of the sea where the world ends, to the bottom of the cliff and my door. I kid you not. This subtle beauty reminds me that life's many, many challenges are a fair trade for these astronomical moments of wonder.

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