JJ’s Galactic Musings – Orion, the Hunter

Welcome to the galaxy! I’m J J Mathews, New Zealand science fiction author and dreamer of alien worlds.

Last month we had a peek at the forces of nature on our own planet, so this month we swing the telescope back out towards the stars, to have a look at where our story takes place.

With the evenings getting darker earlier (south of the equator), it’s getting easier to spend time staring up into the sky and ponder what’s out there. For those in the Northern hemisphere, this is a great time of year to go exploring the crisp, cool, clearer skies.

Here in NZ we’re still able to wear shorts in the evening for another week or two, while my family in Canada is probably contemplating whether it’s time to pull out the lighter parkas. (Just kidding, Vancouver’s not that cold. But the rest of Canada can be).

Even if you’re in a smog-prone area, winter is a great time to get out of town and have a look at the skies. With the cold temperatures, there will be far less particulate optical interference hanging around in the air compared to the summer.

Anyway – to the skies!

There’s a lot to see in the dark skies on a clear night, even with the naked eye. And then there are amazing structures revealed by deep-space telescope imagery, such as the Horsehead Nebula, which is located in the constellation of Orion. It’s just to the left of Alnitak, the easternmost star in Orion’s belt and part of the Orion Molecular Cloud Complex.

Image below: nasa.gov

Orion is my favourite constellation, even though Sagittarius is technically my ‘star sign’. (I was also born in the Chinese Year of the Horse… bit of a coincidence there?) One reason Orion is my favourite is that when I was a child, it was very easy to find. Nothing stands out quite like the bright, even row of three stars on the hunter’s belt.

Another reason that Orion is a favourite is that it follows me around. It’s one of the seasonal constellations that are visible from both hemispheres. Depending on the time of year it’s low or high in the sky, but never far away. There are a few other constellations visible from both hemispheres of course, but for the most part, the major constellations of my youth stayed behind when I moved south.

Polaris and the Big Dipper are well beyond our sight-line down here, which makes things harder – when I was growing up, you just had to look up to find North at night. Of course down here we have the Southern Cross, but trying to figure out “South” from that constellation, such-a distance-out-from-the-bar-and then-down, is a bit of an art. No star points true South, alas.

However, through all of the years, faithful Orion has kept me company and serves as a visual reminder of home.

In Incursion, Taylor and Char have a starry-night conversation on a world with no artificial light whatsoever – the sky there must be truly stunning, especially when the night sky faces the galactic core.

References to Orion in the story are not accidental, just as the Hunter mountains and Hunter moon on Aeden are integral to the history and symbology of the Illiya themselves.

Hunters in the mountains, hunters in the sky… and a Mouse. Linked symbology gives them something in common to talk about. (Although we have no constellations of mice on Earth. Yet.)

More recently, however, I realised that Orion actually has a more direct role to play in showing the (approximate) location of Taylor Neeran’s accidental home, 10,000 light years away.

The system in our story (the world called Aeden) is located somewhere in the Perseus Transit, between 210 and 240 degrees galactic longitude – bridging the Monoceris (Unicorn) and Puppis (Poop Deck) constellations, relative to Earth.

How does Orion fit into any of this? Look at the constellation of Orion, and locate the belt. Trace a line along the belt towards the thin wedge of the Milky Way, towards the M93 Open Cluster (just by the hoof of the Unicorn). Then, draw a line across Orion’s shoulder towards Delta Monocerotis (the shoulder of the Unicorn).

Image: Outerspaceuniverse.org

Therein, amidst the dim haze looking towards the outer arm, roughly lies the region called the Perseus Transit (it’s a pretty big area, really, and fairly loosely defined as it turns out).

So there you have it. Orion points the way to the belly of the beast, and the heart of our story.

I could say that I had planned that particular detail from the start to reinforce the symbolism of “hunter” and “Orion”, but that would be an untruth. Yes, the Perseus Transit was an ideal place to center our conflict. But as to how Orion actually helps visually define the region of our story… that I figured out only recently, a fortuitous coincidence… or is it?

So now you know where to start looking for Taylor’s planet in the clear night sky, with a good, powerful telescope, and you can speculate just where Aeden might be.

Which of those faint, distant stars might host an Earth-like world? That is somewhat beyond our current level of observation ability, but I’d be happy to hear what you think on that topic, so feel free to drop me an email. You might even suggest a name for the star that Aeden orbits. (I haven’t done that yet, actually, and if I like the name, you’ll get a mention in the next book, Icarus.)

Give the Perseus Transit a friendly wave as you search, but remember your message won’t get there for at least 10,000 years…

I hope you’re enjoying the musings, and of course the books. If you like the stories, please take a moment to leave a short, honest review on your favourite book site (Amazon, GoodReads or any of the others, as the books are widely available). I sincerely appreciate you taking the time to tell others what you think of Taylor’s story universe.

J J Mathews

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