This Cold January Night

Sirius is looking straight up at Orion,

wondering why he’s not in the hunt.

He wants to run the ice and snow.

He wants to please the heroic hunter,

and leave this underworld above the Earth.



Cassiopeia the Queen

Beautiful, yes, but also arrogant and vain,

boasting that she and her daughter Andromeda

were more beautiful than the Nereids nymph-daughters.

Tonight, the Lady of the Chair reigns

not over Ethiopia but the North Star.



Poseidon’s punishment to Cassiopea for saying she and Andromeda were more beautiful than the nymph-daughters of the sea god Nereus was for her to be put in a constellation sitting in the heavens tied to a chair. (from Hyginus, Poeticon Astronomicon. “U.S. Naval Observatory Library”)

Orion’s Knee

orion photo


Orion’s belt is three sparkling blue-white stars.

I still can’t see the constellating images

of the ancients, but for that belt.

His shield a vague curve, his knee,

Rigel, blue supergiant anonymously leading his lunge.


orion diagram

orion shield

Orion’s two brightest stars – Betelgeuse and Rigel – are about at an equal distance above and below Orion’s Belt. Betelgeuse achieved popular fame in the misspelled Beetlejuice film character, but Rigel is pretty much unknown.
So, here’s to Rigel, who despite being 775 light-years away (which none of us can really grasp) shines very brightly. What a star you must be! If you were as close as our sun, you would outshine it by 40,000 times!
Rigel is blue-white because of its surface temperature. Rigel is hot (over 10,000 K) and still a youthful star. The more famous Betelgeuse is a red star – “cool” (only 2,000 to 3,500 Kelvin) and already in his autumn years.

Beyond What Is Seen

The mathematics told him that the star

was beyond the Milky Way, whole galaxies

beyond ours, but a young girl tending sheep

long before him looked into the night sky

and knew there was something unseen beyond.

Young Shepherdess Standing

William-Adolphe Bouguereau – Young Shepherdess Standing (1887)

Astronomer Edwin Hubble announced the discovery of other galaxies beyond the Milky Way in 1924. Before he made his discovery, everyone thought that our Milky Way galaxy was the only galaxy in the universe, and that there wasn’t much outside it besides the Magellanic Clouds, which were thought to be clouds of gas or dust. We know now that the Magellanic Clouds are really dwarf galaxies. He renamed the Andromeda Nebula the “Andromeda galaxy,” and he went on to discover 23 more separate galaxies. Within a few years of Hubble’s discovery, most astronomers came to agree that our galaxy is just one of millions.