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Science

Utah Skies: Orion In January

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Orion is one of the brightest constellations in the January skies. It represents a famous hunter who often bragged about his hunting prowess. Mother Earth became concerned about Orion’s destroying all the predators so she placed a giant scorpion with heavy armor for protection near Orion. The giant scorpion was able to sting Orion causing his death. The gods immortalized Orion and placed him among the stars. The scorpion was also placed among the stars, but only to be seen six months later in summer skies. 

Because Orion is seen almost on the meridian in January to make it easy to locate in the cold evening skies, Orion consists of four bright stars Betelgeuse and Bellatrix form his shoulders, Saiph and Rigel form his knees. Three bright stars form his belt.

Rigel forms Orion’s left knee and is the constellation's brightest star. 

In reality Rigel consists of four stars. The primary star, Rigel, has a fainter companion that can be seen in telescopes. It also has two more companions that are spectroscopic binaries and cannot be viewed with a normal telescope. 

Rigel lies 860 light years from Earth and is calculated to be from 60,000 to 360,00 times as luminous as the Sun and 18 to 24 times as massive. 

While Rigel is only 7 to 9 million years old it has used up most of its core hydrogen and is now a supergiant. It will end its life as a type II Supernova. When this happens it will appear the brightness of the full moon and leave behind either a black hole or neutron star.