In mathematics, if you want to solve the problem, you need to locate the pattern, as math is all about manipulating numbers after you have discovered the patterns that those numbers make. Humans try to detect patterns in their environment all the time, we look for meaning in everything that we see. Early humans feared thunder, lightning, rains, floods and storms and because they were not able to explain this natural phenomenon, so they made up gods to help them understand nature. Early humans looked to the stars to find the divine. Today, this is manifested in the childhood belief in and our poetic fascination with Heaven residing in the clouds. For many cultures, the gods were found in constellations and planets.
In the infancy of the human race the rising and setting of the Sun, the progress of the seasons, and the phases of the moon must have compelled the attention of even the most unobservant. As Astronomy is the oldest of the sciences, so also it is one of the most perfect, and in certain aspects the noblest, as being the most “unselfish”, of them all. Astronomy was not originally conducted as science to further human knowledge, or for curiosity’s sake. Instead, the study of the sky was a vital part of the theological foundation of early civilizations.
When people think about the universe, they think about stars, as stars make up most of the visible matter in the universe, and despite all stars beyond our Sun being unthinkably far away from us, we can see thousands of them with our naked eye at night. Throughout the centuries, people have looked to the stars to help them navigate across open oceans or featureless deserts, know when to plant and harvest, and preserve their myths and folklore. Ancient peoples used the appearance or disappearance of certain stars over the course of each year to mark the changing seasons. To make it easier to “read” this celestial calendar, they grouped the brighter stars into readily recognizable shapes, the constellations. Constellations are made by man and they only exist in our imagination.
Astronomy began with the first settlements of agricultural societies. Mesopotamia, the land between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers in what is today Iraq, was the birthplace of civilization almost 10,000 years ago. It is in ancient Samaria that we find the oldest records of the study of astronomy. Babylon and Assyria were later civilizations in the same geographic area, and they inherited the Sumerians’ astronomical traditions and many of their myths and legends surrounding the skies. They in turn developed their own astronomical culture and passed it on to the Greeks and eventually to our modern world. Perhaps the greatest legacy to modern western astronomy was left to us by the Babylonians, as we still use many of their original constellations, and the records that they kept of astronomical occurrences allow us a glimpse into their view of the heavens.
The sky’s obvious effects on Earth led to the view of an intense connection between celestial events and human affairs. When early man looked up into the sky toward the heavens, all he could see during the day was blue skies and a big ball of light. When he observed the night sky all he would see were stars in a dark, black sky. At first, man had no idea what the lights in the sky were. He was able to tell that there was one big star that lit up the day and a lot of little stars at night. Man observed that the big star and all the little stars move across the sky from one side to the other. It was his curiosity that drove him to study the stars and try to figure out what was happening when they moved and where did they go, when they disappeared.
Thousands of years of observation led people to realize that the stars seemed to rise and fall over the course of a night in regular patterns. Since some stars are brighter than others, these were used as reference points to locate other stars in these seeming patterns or constellations. Sirius or Polaris were easily identified and then used by the viewer to orient (literally “face East”) themselves and then identify other stars and their constellations. Regular observations showed that while the stars traced a regular annual pattern against the sky over the course of a year, there were other lights in the sky which had much more complex movements and these were eventually discovered to be planets.
The Orion constellation is one of the brightest and best-known constellations in the night sky. In Greek mythology Orion represents the mythical hunter, who is often depicted in star maps as either facing the snorting charge of Taurus, the bull that is pursuing the Pleiades sisters, or chasing after the hare (constellation Lepus) with his two hunting dogs. The Sumerians saw Orion as being their great hero Gilgamesh fighting the Bull of Heaven. According to myth, Orion was the son of Poseidon the sea god and Euryale, daughter of King Minos of Crete. Poseidon gave Orion the power to walk on water. Homer described Orion as a giant hunter, armed with an unbreakable club of solid bronze. In the sky, the hunter’s dogs (the constellations Canis Major and Canis Minor) follow at his heels, in pursuit of the hare (the constellation Lepus). Orion faces the charge of the bull with his left hand holding his shield up to fend off the bull’s horns, and his right hand is holding up an enormous club that he will use to deliver a crushing blow to the bull’s head. His dog (Canis Major) stands behind him, while the hare (Lepus) crouches forgotten beneath Orion’s feet.
There are many stories about Orion and one of them involves Artemis the goddess of hunting. In this tale, she loved Orion and was seriously considering giving up her vows of chastity to marry him. Her twin brother Apollo was against the match, so one day, while Orion was swimming, Apollo challenged Artemis to demonstrate her skill at archery by hitting a small black object that he pointed out bobbing among the waves. Artemis pierced it with one shot and she was horrified to find that she had killed Orion. Grieving, she placed him among the constellations.
Orion is the brightest and most beautiful of the winter constellations. Some of its stars, are among the brightest stars in the sky. Orion is easily located in the sky by the three bright stars in a row that makes up the Orion’s Belt, which is one of the most familiar asterisms in the night sky, along with the Big Dipper and the Southern Cross in southern latitudes. Starting with the top one (in the Northern hemisphere), the names of these three stars are Mintaka, Alnilam and Alnitak and they are in a short, straight row at the mid-section of the Hunter. Two of the three stars that form the Belt of Orion are super giants. In Ancient Egypt, the stars of the Orion’s Belt were the symbol of Osiris, as the belt stars aligned perfectly with that of the three pyramids of Giza, while Orion’s orientation to the Milky Way matches the pyramids’ orientation to the river Nile.
Our Sun is located on the Orion Arm, or Orion Spur, of the Milky Way galaxy. If you imagine the Milky Way galaxy as being a disk with spiral arms emanating from the center, our sun is about a third of the way from the center to the visible edge. Our solar system is located between two prominent spiral arms sandwiched between the Sagittarius and Perseus Arms, in what astronomers once thought was a mere bridge of stars, gas, and dust clouds. The characteristic spiral arms of a galaxy such as the Milky Way are waves of higher density, regions where stars and gas are a little closer together than elsewhere in our galaxy’s disc.
The Orion constellation shows the hunter carrying a sword and on this sword of stars, ancient observers were very impressed to find what looked like a splotch of blood, as if the hunter were returning from fresh victory. That fuzzy splotch, visible to the naked eye when it is really dark (and easily seen through binoculars) is called the Orion Nebula. The Great Orion Nebula contains clouds of interstellar gas and dust in which thousands of stars are being born. Once you find the Belt stars, you can also locate the Orion Nebula, otherwise known as M42, by following the curved line of stars extending from the Belt that represent Orion’s Sword. The Orion Nebula lies about midway down in the Sword of Orion. Some astronomers claim that a huge, beautifully-illuminated multicolored ‘light’ has emerged from the Orion Nebula and that it is on an intercept-course with Earth.
This stellar nursery is the closest large star-forming region to Earth and this great big nebulous cocoon is giving birth to perhaps a thousand stars. A young open star cluster, whose stars were born at the same time from a portion of the nebula and are still loosely bound by gravity, can be seen within the nebula. It is sometimes called the Orion Nebula Star Cluster. In 2012, an international team of astronomers suggested this cluster in the Orion Nebula might have a black hole at its heart. The brightest central part of the nebula is called the “Huygenian region” (named after the 17th-century astronomer Christiaan Huygens). The Orion Nebula is actually just part of a much larger cloud that covers most of the constellation of Orion (including the region around the Horsehead Nebula).
Written for Teresa Grabs Daily Writing Prompt – The Orion Nebula.