The Winter Hexagon

Index of Christmas holiday posts

“He is wise in heart and mighty in strength… who alone stretched out the heavens and trampled the waves of the sea; who made the Bear and Orion, the Pleiades and the chambers of the south; who does great things beyond searching out, and marvelous things beyond number.” (Job 9:4, 8–10; see also Job 38:31)

Christmas nights are the most spectacular time of the year to go outside and enjoy the stars. Button up, heat up that hot chocolate, and brave the blasts of winter – you won’t be disappointed!

“What do you hunt, Orion,
This starry night?
The Ram, the Bull, and the Lion,
And the Great Bear, says Orion,
With my starry quiver and beautiful belt
I am trying to find a good thick pelt
To warm my shoulders tonight,
To warm my shoulders tonight.”
Lettice D’Oyly Walters

Orion the Hunter and the Winter Hexagon are visible all night long. Orion is one of the most easily spotted winter constellations, visible from every inhabited part of the globe. The Winter Hexagon is the most prominent group of bright stars in the winter sky. In addition to Orion, other constellations that make up the Winter Hexagon are:

The Winter Hexagon contains an unrivaled collection of bright stars. Click image below for a larger view. For a brief description, see my Winter Hexagon page, created in the 1990s when I was a planetarium director.

The Winter Hexagon

For several years in December I’ve mounted a Winter Holidays exhibit which includes rare books related to (among other things) the constellations of the Winter Hexagon (pdf exhibit brochure). For example, a full-color figure is on display of the constellation Orion the Hunter from Catherine Whitwell, An Astronomical Catechism (1818). Whitwell’s book was the subject of a post on my professional blog.

Orion the Hunter, Catherine Whitwell, An Astronomical Catechism (1818)

Another work, Urania’s Mirror (1825), consists of constellation cards. Cards for several winter constellations are on display, including ones for Orion (shown here), Taurus the Bull and Gemini the Twins.

Orion the Hunter, from Urania's Mirror (1825)

To become familiar with the stars of winter (or any season), I recommend Chet Raymo, 365 Starry Nights. Raymo’s sky chart for January 1st features the Winter Hexagon:

Winter Hexagon, Chet Raymo, 365 Starry Nights

See also this great photo of the Winter Hexagon from Astronomy Picture of the Day.

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2 Responses to The Winter Hexagon

  1. Pingback: Christmas nights: Winter Solstice | Kerry's loft

  2. Pingback: Bruce Cockburn – love in a broken world | Kerry's loft

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