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Orion's Version of Fatal Attraction!

Starwatch’s graphic of Orion the Hunter

In last week's Starwatch, I told you about the astronomical wonders of

my favorite constellation Orion the Hunter, the big guy of the winter sky!

At nightfall he's waiting for you as he rises in the southeastern sky,

resembling a giant crooked bow tie or a tilted hourglass. His belt made up

of three bright stars in a perfect row really jump out at you. Orion the

Hunter is as rich with mythological tales as he is with astronomical

treasures. Many different cultures have their own story of this ancient

constellation. One of My favorite tales evolves from Greek mythology and

involves Artemis, the goddess of the moon. One word of warning here. I've

been known to add my own twists and turns to these tales.

Orion was a huge burly character who lived for hunting and fishing.

Like most of the critters and beasts he hunted, Orion was nocturnal.

He stalked and hunted by night and slept under a giant tree by day.

Orion was also a bit of a hermit who didn't like to mix with other

people or the local conservation enforcement officers, who took

exception with his nocturnal hunting practices. To avoid people and

law enforcement he moved to a large but deserted island where he

could hunt and fish unabated.

Orion was living his solitary dream! Every night he was out there

slaying beasts of all kinds. Unbeknownst to him, Orion also had a secret

admirer, Artemis, the goddess of the moon. Like a present-day spy

satellite, Artemis did aerial reconnaissance on Orion as she guided her

magic moon chariot across the sky, pulled by flying horses. The more

Artemis spied on Orion, the more she longed the mighty Hunter's

company. However, Leaping down and hanging out with Orion was

risky business. Not only would she be ignoring her duties as moon

goddess, but she would also be mixing with a mortal and that was

taboo! That would get her in a lot of trouble with her father Zeus, the

king of the gods.

So night after night she struggled, stranded in the sky with the

moon and her team of flying horses, denied the pleasure of Orion's

company. One night though she just couldn't take it anymore! As

Orion was cleaning up on a large herd of wild boars, she yelled whoa

to the horses and glided down to Orion's island. Finally, she met him

face to face. As she hoped it was love at first sight. Orion quickly gave

up on the hermit thing after one look at the goddess. Immediately she

changed out her royal robes and put on Hunter's camouflage. Artemis

hunted with Orion the rest of the night, but when dawn approached

she jumped back up to the moon chariot and raced it to the horizon.

The very next night, once again, she halted the moon in mid-sky and

joined her new love for another night of hunting, jumping back on her

chariot at dawn.

This taboo love affair went on for some time. Orion and Artemis

were very much in love but clearly Artemis was in the wrong!

Eventually, Zeus found out about his daughter's behavior from Apollo,

the god of the sun and Artemis' brother. What a snitch! Zeus had to

stop this affair, but he didn't want to lose the love of his daughter. So

the king of the gods came up with a plan. He had a hit put out on

Orion. He wanted the hunter killed as soon as possible but wanted it

to look like an accident. Zeus arranged for a giant scorpion to be

dropped on Orion's island and fatally sting the Hunter during his

daytime slumber, killing off his daughter's illicit love interest!

The next day the giant scorpion encounter arrived. As Orion

enjoyed his sweet dreams of Artemis and hunting, the scorpion

crawled into his camp. Orion bolted up as the scorpion attacked.

What followed was a battle that went on for hours and hours. As

evening set in the Hunter had the scorpion in a headlock and had just

about broken its neck. Down to his last gap, the scorpion managed to

break out of the hold and sting Orion's neck. In a few minutes it was

all over for our Hunter.

That night when Artemis descended down from her moon cart,

she made the grizzly discovery. Her boyfriend had met his match. She

looked around and saw the oversized and aggressive scorpion still in

Orion's camp. Artemis put two and two together and quickly took

action. As the killer scorpion made its retreat, the moon goddess

grabbed it by the tail and flung it so far into the sky that it magically

transformed into the constellation Scorpius the Scorpion. Artemis

then returned to the slain Orion and wept over him for hours and

hours. Finally, she cradled his body into her arms and flew his body off

to the sky. When she was high enough, she gently tossed her dead

boyfriend a little higher in the sky, magically transforming him into a

bright constellation. Artemis wanted her dearly departed partner with

her in the heavens.

She also ensured that Orion was on the opposite side of the sky

from the scorpion that assassinated him. That's why we never see the

constellations Orion and Scorpius in the sky at the same time. As soon

as Orion rises in the east, the scorpion sets in the west, and vice versa.

That's also why Orion is a winter constellation and Scorpius resides in

the summer evening sky. Remember as you gaze at the full moon and

Orion this week that poor Artemis is still grieving.

Mike Lynch is an amateur astronomer and retired broadcast

meteorologist for WCCO Radio in Minneapolis/St. Paul. He is the author

of "Stars: a Month by Month Tour of the Constellations," published by

Adventure Publications and available at bookstores

and Contact him at