Hello, Old Friend

The Orion constellation by mensatic at MorgueFile.com

Orion, The Hunter

Last night, I was driving home very late. I stayed late at work to finish up a project. Atlanta is pretty badly light-polluted, so the only “stars” you see in our sky are mostly aircraft lights as they approach or depart Hartsfield International Airport south of town. I work downtown, so to get home, I drive out of the heavily light-polluted area into the slightly darker suburbs northeast of the city.

There is one thing that tells me it’s autumn, whether the pecan trees agree or not: Orion. That’s him pictured at the top of this post. When he starts climbing higher into the sky, I know autumn is starting, and winter is soon to follow.

I live in a darker suburb, so as I pulled into my subdivision last night, I happened to look up, and I saw him, high in the sky, making his slow march up the celestial dome, followed by his faithful dog Sirius. And I couldn’t help it. I said, “Hello, old friend!” aloud to him as I turned. Seeing him in the sky means autumn is finally here. It cheered me up and gave me a smile even though it was after midnight and I was tired.

Orion is easily my favorite constellation, and not just because of his signature shape. Those three stars in his belt — Alnitak, Alnilam, and Mintaka — are one of the most recognizable patterns in the sky. And although they look like they’re close together, Alnitak is ~800 light years from Earth, Alnilam is ~1340 light years away, and Mintaka is ~915 light years away. Mintaka is actually a double star, although you can’t tell without a telescope.

His upper left shoulder is Betelgeuse, a red supergiant so gigantic, that if it were in our own solar system, it would engulf Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, the asteroids, and maybe graze Jupiter.

His lower right foot is Rigel, a trinary system consisting of a single blue-white supergiant star orbited by a much smaller blue-white binary system. The big primary is also a variable star, meaning that it pulsates over time.

Rigel and Betelgeuse are two of the ten brightest stars in our sky.

His upper right shoulder is Bellatrix, another blue-white giant star.

Of course, I can’t leave out the crowning glory of the Orion contellation: The Orion Nebula, one of the most stunning objects in the night sky, by telescope. To the naked eye, it’s a blurry spot below his belt, and makes up part of his sword. You can’t make out much; you keep wanting to just . . . force your eyes to focus. Google images of the Orion Nebula as seen by telescope. It’ll take your breath away.

But do you know what else autumn means? NaNoWriMo is just around the corner. And to it, too, I must say, “Hello, old friend!”

I haven’t given much thought to what I’m going to write, this year. I still have almost three weeks to make up my mind. That’s plenty of time.



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4 Responses to “Hello, Old Friend”
  1. I wish I had read this last night when I was in Arkansas where the stars are visible. Nothing but satellites and planes here. And NaNoWriMo- I’m thinking about trying it myself this year.

    • Last year at about this time, I was at Viable Paradise on Martha’s Vineyard. Talk about STARS. I had no idea there were so many. It’s the first time I remember seeing the Milky Way as an adult. Amazing.

      If you try NaNoWriMo out, let me know your ID so I can “buddy” you. :)

  2. Kathy says:

    Thank you for the education about this interesting constellation! Early in the morning when I walk my daughter to her bus stop the stars are out brightly…watching us make our way. I always gaze to the heavens and make a wish. The fact that the mornings are so darn cold is my first indication of fall. LOL Really enjoyed this one Gary! ♥

    • Thank you, Kathy. I appreciate the comment. :)

      Here in the deep-fried south, “cold” is relative. There are people at my office who wear light sweaters or jackets year-round because the 75-degree office environment is chilly to them. I don’t put on sleeves until it’s in the 40s, and even then only if I have to be out in it for more than a couple of minutes.

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