How Did the Constellation Orion Get Its Name?

Jun/CC-BY-SA 2.0

Stargazers in ancient Greece observed the “pictures” formed by stars and named the Orion constellation after a mythological hunter. Many origin stories exist, but one popular version recounts Orion’s quest to defeat a giant scorpion sent by Gaia, the goddess of Earth, according to the Windows to the Universe.

In the story, Orion boasted that he could destroy every wild animal. He was known for his superior hunting skills and had previously saved the island of Chios from savage beasts, according to Windows to the Universe. Orion died from the scorpion’s deadly venom, and Gaia, who was a protector of animals, rewarded the beast by transforming it into a constellation for all to see.

In another famous myth, Orion was the lover of Artemis, the goddess of the hunt. Artemis’ twin brother, Apollo, resented Orion and orchestrated his death by challenging Artemis to hit a far-off target in the ocean with her bow and arrow, according to Windows to the Universe. Artemis accidentally killed her lover while he swam, and she honored the hunter by placing him in the sky.

The most visible stars in the Orion constellation are Betelgeuse and Rigel. Betelgeuse, a red supergiant, is approximately 300 times larger than the sun in diameter and forms one “shoulder” of Orion’s body, according to the University of Texas McDonald Observatory imprint website StarDate. Rigel, a blue supergiant, shines a blue-white light up to 100,000 times more powerful than the sun’s brightness. Other important features include the star Bellatrix, the Orion Nebula and the three-star formation Orion’s Belt.