Canst thou bind the chains of the Pleiades or loose the cords of Orion?
– Job 38:32
I can thank the dog. Our younger pup has lately developed a need for morning walks between 4 and 5 a.m., and I have been elected his companion.
That’s OK, because this is one of the best times of the year to look at the stars.
I’ll tell you what I tell my dog.
“It all starts with Orion,” I explain in my pre-dawn astronomy lectures.
First, we look to the south and find the familiar three-star belt of our mighty celestial hunter. It truly is my favorite constellation, and the one mentioned in the Bible.
The red star to the top left is Betelgeuse (yes, it can be pronounced “beetle juice”). The fainter star to the top right is Bellatrix, the Amazon star, and the one to the bottom right is Rigel.
I can identify with Orion because, like me, he is out tonight with his dog companions. (I have pointed this out to my pup on more than one occasion.)
Extend a line from his belt to the bottom left and you run into the big dog constellation and Sirius, the “nose” of Canis Major, and one of the brightest stars in the sky.
If you head up a bit, you get the little dog, Canis Minor – smaller, but no less loyal. (Can I get a tail wag?)
Orion is not alone with his dogs. Above and behind him are the Gemini twins, Pollux and Castor. Their head stars are pretty easy to see, but after that, you have to squint. The best you can usually find is the star Alhena in Pollux’s foot.
Now, swing up in an arc above Orion and you’ll find a “box” of several stars.
This is Auriga, the Charioteer. That bright star in the right corner of the box is Capella.
Desert bedouins, who probably got a very clear view of Auriga, didn’t know much about chariots and thought Auriga’s stars reminded them of a herd of goats. That’s why Capella is sometimes called the Goat star.
Well, you might ask, why does a big constellation like Orion need two dogs, two pals and a guy in a chariot?
Because, I explained one dark morning, there is a bull coming right at him, horns up and the star Aldebaran blazing in his eye.
This constellation – Taurus – has almost as much going on as Orion. If you squint, you can see the cluster of faint stars on the bull’s back – these are the Pleiades (also mentioned in the Bible). And if you want to see something else that’s pretty cool, get some binoculars and look at the bull’s “face.”
It’s another cluster of stars, called the Hyades.
It was so much fun to see them through the lens for the first time. In fact, it’s been fun almost each morning because I almost always see something new in the slowly shifting celestial parade.
I’m happy, the dog’s happy, and on a clear fall morning, the stars will rarely disappoint anyone looking toward heaven and trying to make connections.