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The Winter Hexagon

The Winter Hexagon
Credit: André Grandchamps/Espace pour la vie; Stellarium.org
The Winter Hexagon
The Winter Hexagon

You’re probably familiar with the Summer Triangle, that set of three stars visible all night from June to August in our latitudes. But were you aware of the Winter Hexagon? The sky, in this period of the year, is dominated by a number of bright stars. And six of them form an immense hexagon that stretches from the horizon to the zenith, in a southerly direction.

At the heart of the Winter Hexagon sits Orion. That constellation will help us find the corners of the Winter Hexagon. To locate it, we just have to look south around 8 p.m. Orion, that heavenly hunter, is personified by a large vertical triangle, whose shoulders and knees make up the corners. Rigel, the star in the lower right corner, is the first star in our hexagon.

The hunter and his hounds

At the center of Orion’s rectangular body we can see the hunter’s belt, made up of a slightly slanted line of three closely aligned stars. As we follow that line towards the left we come to Sirius, the principal star in the constellation of Canis Major, the “Great Dog.” This is the second star in our Hexagon. Sirius is also the brightest star in the sky. Only the Sun, the Moon, Venus and Jupiter surpass it in terms of intensity.

A little higher up on the left, the third star stands out: Procyon, in the constellation of Canis Minor, or the “Lesser Dog.” In mythology, the two canines accompany Orion on his hunt for Taurus, the bull.

Higher still in the sky, slightly on the left, two bright stars quite close together draw our attention. These are Castor and Pollux, in the constellation of Gemini. Pollux forms one of the hexagon’s corners.

If we go back to Orion and extend his belt, except this time to the right, we notice a group of stars in the shape of a V. This is the cluster of the Hyades. At the top of one of the branches of the V, the orange star Aldebaran represents the eye of Taurus as it charges at the hunter Orion. That’s the fifth angle of our hexagon.

Finally, over our heads, practically at the zenith, the last star in the Winter Hexagon is revealed, Capella, in the constellation of Auriga, or “Charioteer”.

Thanks to the stars of the Hexagon you’ll be in a position to discover the riches of the winter sky. All that’s left for me to do is wish you happy observing.

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