2017 is here. Winter is being its typical cold self, and the worst is yet to come. Did I ever mention that I don’t particularly like winter?
Just recently we visited the Tamarokuto Science Center, home of the world’s 4th largest planetarium and the most advanced projector – said to be able to reproduce the night sky to some 140,000,000 stars. (I lost count, so I can’t confirm this!)
The planetarium displays change with the seasons, and the focus of this season’s display was Orion. Most Japanese kids are familiar with Orion, as they do some elementary astronomy at school and often have homework over the holidays to observe the night sky and locate several asterisms, constellations or individual stars or planets.
It seems that Orion, or at least Orion’s belt is one of the oldest known asterisms in the world. The ancient Chinese, for example, knew of Orion’s belt and named it Shen (參). Incidentally, 参 is sometimes used to mean the number three. In classical Japanese, asterism is known as karasukiboshi (唐鋤星), literally “Tang spade star”. Modern Japanese uses the name Orion – however, they pronounce it not as /əˈrʌɪən/, but as /ɒrɪɒn/ and write it as オリオン座 (Orion-za).
It is hard not to mention Orion without covering the Winter Triangle, which had a co-starring role (bad pun intended) in the display. Formed from the three brightest stars in the winter sky, it is sometimes used as a reference point for finding other astral formations. It is hard to find a Japanese kid who is not familiar with this asterism.
Sirius (the brightest star in the night sky), Betelgeuse (Orion’s armpit), and Procyon (the brighter of the two stars that make up the constellation of Canis Minor) form the three vertices of this approximately equilateral triangle. It can be seen high in the sky over Japan at this time of year.
My son has expressed an interest in seeing the stars some clear night, so I’ll see what I can do.