Without a doubt, the constellation Orion the Hunter is probably the most recognized constellation in our night sky. You may think the Big Dipper is the most recognized, but it's not officially a constellation. It's actually the bright part of the much larger constellation Ursa Major, the Big Bear. The Big Dipper outlines the rear and tail of the bear that's rising in the northeast sky during these midwinter evenings.
Orion the Hunter is without a doubt my favorite constellation, shining stately in the south-southeastern sky with its three bright stars outlining the hunter's belt. There are also many other bright stars and constellations that surround Orion and after 8pm they're all high enough above the southeastern horizon to enjoy. I like to call that part of the sky "Orion and his Gang".
In most of the western world we use the Greek and Roman titles and mythology for the constellations, but there's nothing set in celestial stone that says you have to. I break the rules all the time. For example, the Greek interpretation of the constellation Pegasus the Winged Horse, now flying above the western horizon, is classically seen as a horse flying upside down with puny wings. At my star parties I show him as a horse flying right side up with huge wings. That's what he really looks like as far as I'm concerned.
I bring this up because at my star parties I sometimes show Orion as a hunter, the king of the constellations, but I've also shown him as Elvis Presley, the King of Rock and Roll. In the classic interpretation Orion the Hunter is holding up a club in one hand and a lion by the scruff of his neck in the other. Orion as Elvis (preferably the older Elvis of the 1970's), is holding up a microphone in one hand and is holding off all his fans with other. You can see that, can't you? In both cases the hunter and Elvis are sporting a bright belt with three sequins made by the three stars in a row.
Elvis is also way over-glittered with a really gaudy, bright, reddish sequin on his right shoulder, the bright star Betelgeuse, and an equally bright blue stone on the inside of his left shoe, the equally bright bluish star Rigel. Is Rigel his blue suede shoe? In real astronomical life, Betelgeuse is known as a huge super red giant star that at times pulses out to nearly a billion miles in diameter. Our sun isn't even one million miles in girth. Betelgeuse shines at us from about 640 light years away, with just one light year equaling nearly six trillion miles. Rigel is nearly sixty million miles in diameter and over 770 light years away. Rigel's claim to fame is that it cranks out about 130,000 times more light than our sun. That's quite a sequin on his blue suede shoe!
In the classic Greek interpretation Orion the Hunter has two hunting dogs, a big one and a small one. The big dog is outlined in the constellation Canis Major to the lower left of Orion. The bright star Sirius, the bright star we can see in the night sky any time of the year, marks the nose of the hound.
Remember one of Elvis's early hits; "You Ain't Nothing But a Hound Dog"? Well that hound dog takes the place of Canis Major as Elvis's pesky hound. In both Canis Major and Elvis's hound dog the big pooch is standing on its hind legs with the star Sirius marking the canine's snout.
In "You Ain't Nothing But a Hound Dog" Elvis accuses that hound of never catching a rabbit and not being a friend of his. Well, guess what? That hound dog is chasing a rabbit across the sky, the faint constellation Lepus the Hare to the right of Canis (the hound) Major. As you can see in the diagram, the hound dog is stlll quite a ways from the hound's jaws, and it doesn't look like he'll catch up anytime soon!
Strap on your blue suede shoes, hopefully well insulated, and head outside to see the King of Rock and Roll in the heavens. Don't just hang around the Heartbreak Hotel!
Diagram of the "Elivs and His Gang"...Click