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Stars in Orion

The Constellation Orion
Copyright Bernd Mienert. Courtesy of the Astronomical Image Data Archive.

Orion consists of seven major stars: two for his shoulders, two for his feet, and three for his belt. Each star has a name. Also, astronomers have measured bright and how far away each star is.

Astronomers measure how bright a star is with a number called magnitude. The brighter the star, the lower the magnitude. Also, magnitude changes very fast. A difference of 5 in magnitude means a factor of 100 difference in brightness.

The stars to the left are magnitude 13 and 18, so they differ by a factor of 100. Similarly, a magnitude 1 star is 100 times brighter than a magnitude 6 star. This might seem confusing to you, but astronomers have used magnitude for thousands of years.

Astronomers measure distance in light-years. One light-year is the distance light travels in one year: 9,458,000,000,000 kilometers. A light-year is a long way: to go one light-year in the Space Shuttle would take you about 40,000 years!

The table below shows magnitudes and distances for the seven stars that make up Orion. What can you learn about the stars from these numbers?

Star Name

Part of Orion

Magnitude

Distance (light-years)

Betelgeuse

Left shoulder

0.45

427

Saiph

Left foot

2.07

720

Bellatrix

Right shoulder

1.64

243

Rigel

Right foot

0.18

773

Alnitak

Left belt

1.82

815

Alnilam

Center belt

1.69

1,350

Mintaka

Right belt

2.41

916

Even though the stars look similar to your eye, they are all very different. They have different brightnesses and are at different distances from Earth.

 

Clip art licensed from the Clip Art Gallery on DiscoverySchool.com