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The great, bright Orion nebula will amaze your eyes

(Wikimedia Photo/Bryan Goff

With winter just around the corner, we look to the eastern sky on these early December evenings and notice an amazing constellation rising, a true sign of winter.

Welcome Orion!

This magical constellation is easy to see even from the bright lights of the city.

Orion the Hunter is made up of at least seven major bright stars and it also houses one of the most amazing objects in the sky – the great Orion Nebula!

Orion is one of the ancient constellations making up 594 square degrees in the night sky. In this deep star field, we now know of some 10 stars that actually contain planets around them.

In Greek mythology, Orion is a part of the epic odyssey of Homer, as a hunter with a bronze club, seeking out prey with his dog Sirius.

Orion finally met his fate, killed by a giant scorpion for claiming he would kill every beast on Earth.

Zeus finally proclaimed that Orion should be placed as a constellation in the night sky, as well as the scorpion – Scorpius.

Of the 88 constellations in the night sky, Orion comes in as the 26th largest.

Here is a graphic of what the constellation of Orion looks like.

Moving toward the top left of Orion, we come to the bright orange super giant star, Betelguese.

This amazing star is some 642 light years from Earth. The light you see tonight left the star in 1377.

This star is one that may have already exploded into a great supernova and only time will tell when we see this star brighten in a most dramatic way.

Betelguese is some 700 times the diameter of our sun, making it nearly 700 million miles in diameter.

On the lower right side of Orion, we come across another bright star known as Rigel.

Rigel is the seventh-brightest star in the night sky, located at distance of some 860 light years from your eye. The light we see tonight left the star in the year 1159, making its way across the universe.

Rigel is a hot blue super giant star, with extreme temperature. The energy output of Rigel is estimated to be at least 200,000 times that of our sun.

If Rigel were to be located within one parsec (32 light years) from the Sun, it would shine with nearly half the luminosity of the full Moon!

Now for the best.

Located just below the main belt stars of Orion is the famous Orion Nebula.

Easy to find in a small pair of binoculars, see an image here.

The Orion Nebula, or M42 by its Messier designation, is a stellar nursery located 1,340 light years from us. It has a true diameter of about 24 light years and in a pair of binoculars or a small telescope, it is just amazing to view!

Telescopic viewers on a dark moon less night will marvel at the vast dust clouds and stars seen within it. All this is powered up by an interesting little cluster of four stars known as the Trapezium.

This view helps us see the beauty of the Orion nebula and the Trapezium!

You are looking at the inner workings of a star nursery, with stars actually being born out of the vast gas and dust required for stellar evolution.

Take time to enjoy this stellar treasure and share the view with someone.

Happy Holidays and Merry Christmas!

See you on the radio!

To print your own monthly star chart, click here.

To view satellites/dates/times of passage, click here.

Listen to the Dr. Sky Show on KTAR News 92.3 FM every Saturday morning at 3 a.m.

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