Can You Tell Winter Is On the Way By Looking at Constellations in Iowa?
Winter? In August? Don’t freak out. Let’s hope we have plenty of summer remaining before the dreaded freeze arrives.
But every year, in early August, if you look east (when the skies aren’t smokey) and just before morning’s first light, you’ll be able to catch winter’s most famous constellation --- Orion the Hunter.
Orion always passes behind the sun in Northern Hemisphere spring. But this time of year, Orion makes his return, just before sunrise. It’s why Orion has been called the ghost of the shimmering summer dawn, from a poem written in 1924.
By December Orion will be rising in the early evening. Earth’s orbit around the sun causes all the stars to rise approximately 4 minutes earlier each day and Orion is clearly visible in the night sky from November to February.
The Orion Nebula is farther away than any of the naked eye stars at a distance of about 1,600 light-years. One light-year is the distance light travels in a single year, about 6 trillion miles.
There are several versions of the story of Orion, but the most common is that Orion proclaimed himself to be the greatest hunter in the world. Zeus’s wife did not appreciate his cockiness and had a scorpion kill him. The scorpion (Scorpius) and Orion are on opposite sides of the sky so that they cannot bother each other, which means that you cannot see them at the same time in the night sky. You’ll also see Orion’s dogs (the constellations Canis Major and Canis Minor) following close behind him.
In Iowa, Scorpius is most visible by looking to the south during July and August around 10:00 PM. The constellation remains visible until mid-September.
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