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Appearance Differences in Stars of the Constellation Orion the Hunter

The reasoning behind the different visual properties of ten of the constellation of Orion's major stars. Over 2000 words with references.

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The Different Stars of Orion the Hunter


Recently, during a weekend horseback riding trip in the backwoods of Northwestern Montana, I took some time before sunrise to look up. I couldn't remember the last time I had the opportunity to see the clear night sky (or in this case, early morning sky) uninhibited by artificial light. It took me back to my childhood days at summer camp, looking at the billions of light points that, at a glance, looked like a solid blanket, but yet were in such fine detail that you could make out every single and minute dot. This was the time and place where my interest in the heavens took hold. We learned about the moon, the planets and the Milky Way. We had an observatory where we could hook up our 35mm cameras and take pictures of the night sky. For the first time I saw the Aurora Borealis, meteor showers, and orbiting satellites. But what stuck with me the most was learning my way around the night sky by way of the constellations. So, taking advantage of my rare moment of solitude, I started looking for the subject of my essay...Orion the Hunter. I knew Orion was a winter constellation, but being the first weekend of September in the northern United States, I figured it had to be getting close to the night sky. Fortunately, the valley I was in ran to the south-east...and there he was. I've looked at this constellation thousands of times in the past, but never through the eyes of an astronomy student. It was amazing to me, just how different each point of light looked to me now. Orion's stars were different sizes, colors, brightness', and some looked a little fuzzier than others. Then I started wondering...just how close were these stars in respect to each other, and is there more out there than just single points of light?

Being that this is my second course in pursuance of my Master's degree, I knew some of the answers to these questions. The only test is putting these newly learned principles into words in order to describe the how's and why's of Orion's star's visual differences.

Due to the vast number of identified stars (85 in the references I found) in the constellation, I am limiting my comparisons to 10 of the major stars: Betelgeuse, Bellatrix, Alnitak, Alnilam, Mintaka, M42, M42 Orionis, Nair Al Saif, Saiph, and Rigel (SEDSweb). After looking at these stars in depth, and discussing each of their unique properties and what causes these properties to influence their appearances, we will have a better understanding of how and why the appearances of these points of light can look so different in our night-time sky.

The Different Visual Properties of a Star

The most important part of understanding the appearance of a star or object in space is their individual visual properties, and what causes them. In this section I will define and explain each of these properties in order to make their comparisons easier to explain and as a result, more understandable.

Apparent Magnitude - According to Freedman and Kaufmann ...

Solution Summary

This solution discusses the obvious visual differences of ten of Orion's major stars. The differences discussed are apparent size, colors, brightness and clarity as viewed from Earth. The stars included in this five page discussion are Betelgeuse, Bellatrix, Alnitak, Alnilam, Mintaka, M42, M42 Orionis, Nair Al Saif, Saiph, and Rigel.