The impossibly bright beauty of Orion's Belt

Betelgeuse has been hogging the headlines lately, but what about the other stars in the constellation of Orion? This spectacular photo reveals the beauty of Alnitak, Alnilam, and Mintaka, the trio of stars that make up its belt.

This photo was taken last month and captures the three stars that make up Orion's belt, arguably the most famous part of this particular constellation. The three bright blue stars are incredibly bright, although most of their luminosity is only found in the ultraviolet spectrum, so humans can't fully appreciate just how unimaginably bright these stars really are.

Alnitak, the leftmost of the three stars, is about 100,000 times the brightness of the Sun when you factor in ultraviolet radiation, while the rightmost star Mintaka clocks in at 90,000 times. Technically, Mintaka isn't actually a star at all, but rather two stars orbiting one another, but they're so close together that they appear to be a single light source at our great distance away, which is thought to be about 1,000 light-years. Alnilam is the brightest of the three, with a luminosity 375,000 times that of the Sun.

Because of their tremendous brightness - even if it's mostly in ultraviolet, there's still plenty for humans to see - Orion's belt is the easiest part of the constellation for amateur astronomers to find, and its prominence in the night sky has given it a bunch of names. These include Jacob's Rod and Peter's Staff, the L (or Ell), the Golden Yard-Arm, Our Lady's Wand, the Three Kings, the Three Marys, or, somewhat unimaginatively, the Three Stars. And those are just the English names.

[via NASA]