by J. Alex Knoll
The great hunter’s familiar shape and bright lights are sure to delight
The moon waxes through Monday, when the full Frost Moon lights our night from sunset, at 7:10, to sunrise, at 4:46. In days of yore, Native Americans also called this the Beaver Moon, both for the winter preparations the paddle-tailed creatures make this time of year as well and the paramount role the animals played in the tribes’ own survival. Not only did the beavers’ dense, warm pelts offer protection against the cold and wet, their fat was used to fuel fires and lamps, their claws were used for tools and ornamentation and their meat was dried and stored for the long winter, including the tail, considered a delicacy.
Take a tour with the moon through the zodiac and through the seasons, beginning with the faint fall constellations of Pisces and Aries, then into winter with Taurus and Gemini. Also note the position of the waxing gibbous moon and these constellations in relation to the celestial zenith: As we approach the heart of winter, their path of travel the ecliptic pitches upward.
Whereas many constellations pale in the glare of the full moon, winter’s great hunter, Orion, stands out all the brighter as there are fewer stars bright enough to compete with his familiar pattern.
Brightest of all is the 1-magnitude, red super-giant Betelgeuse, marking Orion’s right shoulder and leading to his raised club-wielding arm. Opposite and the next brightest star in the constellation is the 0-magnitude, blue-white Rigel, the hunter’s outstretched knee. Saiph, 2-magnitude, marks his planted foot, and again opposite, Bellatrix, 1-magnitude, is Orion’s left shoulder and arm, outstretched and holding a slain lion. Meissa, 3-magnitude, is his head. Easiest to see, however, are the three stars of Orion’s belt, marked by from east to west Alnitak, Alnilam, and Mintaka, all around 2-magnitude.