Volume 14, Issue 1 ~ January 5 - 11, 2006

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Sky Watch

by J. Alex Knoll

The Egyptian Link in Orion’s Belt

Although solstice marked the shortest day of the year, Thursday the 5th is the latest sunrise at 7:23. (The earliest sunset was four weeks ago). Over the next six months, through summer solstice, our days grow longer. For now, we’ll notice no more than a minute a week increase in the morning and about five minutes a week at dusk.

The waxing gibbous moon, the phase between first-quarter and full with a brightly illuminated sphere, rises in the afternoon this week. Although bright enough to stand out against the daytime sky, the gibbous moon by no means dominates the heavens as it does come sunset, just after 5:00 this week, when it appears high in the south and not setting until shortly before sunrise.

Saturday and Sunday the moon shines to either side of Mars, the two bodies separated by less than 10 degrees — about the width of your outstretched fist against the sky. By Monday, the moon is well beyond Mars, instead drawing near another orange-red light, Aldebaran, the red eye of Taurus the bull, which shines to the Moon's lower left.

Forever pursuing Taurus is Orion the hunter. Orion is one of the most recognized constellations, looking like a large rectangle high in the southeastern sky.

Red Betelgeuse marks Orion’s shoulder, and blue-white Rigel marks his planted front foot. The three stars at the center form Orion’s belt. Below the belt, a fainter line of stars is Orion’s sword, although not all are stars: Here lies the Orion Nebula, a cloud of stellar gas and dust illuminated by the churning energy of new-born stars.

In Greek, the word arion means hunter, but Orion dates back further to at least ancient Egypt. One theory, proposed in the book The Orion Mystery, by Robert Bauval and Adrian Gilbert, is that the great pyramids, when built, aligned with the stars of Orion’s belt.

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