Take a tour of a stellar nursery – the Orion Nebula

Jan 5, 2022, 2:00 PM
(NASA Photo)...
(NASA Photo)
(NASA Photo)

With the New Year here and the season of winter under way, we explore the January 2022 skies for a most memorable group of stars know as Orion the Hunter.

Rising in the eastern sky right after sunset, we come to one of the most recognizable constellations in the entire sky.

The main body of this interesting constellation is made up of seven major stars, forming the shape of the mythical hunter Orion.

In Greek mythology, Orion was placed in the heavens by Zeus and was challenged on his hunting skills, as he proclaimed his ability to hunt every animal on Earth. Gaia, the mother of Earth, was upset and sent a giant scorpion to stop Orion.

Orion was stung by the scorpion and placed in the heavens for all eternity.

This is but one of many versions of the great history of Orion.

The main stars of Orion and his belt are: Betelgeuse, Bellatrix, Rigel, Saiph Alnitak, Alnilam and Mintaka.

All these stars are bright enough for any observer, even with city lights, to see without optical aid.

Lurking just below the main belt stars, we come to the sword of Orion and contained within the sword we come to an amazing stellar nursery; the Orion Nebula or Messier 42.

Try this: Look below the main belt stars just a few degrees below the middle star, Alnilam, in a pair or binoculars. You will see a hazy and fuzzy area of stars. That is the Orion Nebula.

This amazing object is thought to be some 1,344 light years distant. So the light that you see from the Orion Nebula, left this object back in the year 678 A.D.

The Orion Nebula is thought to be 12 light years in diameter and is powered by an amazing group of four tiny stars known as the Trapezium.

Here is an image of the Orion Nebula at its best from Earth.

To find the Orion Nebula, here is a basic star chart.

Observers with telescopes are in for an real treat too! On a dark and moonless night, look at this celestial gem with your scope and the most incredible view will be in front of you.

This vast 12-light-year-in-diameter object is the birthplace of many stars. As mentioned before, the nebula is lit up in part by the four trapezium stars. This is what the telescope view would be like.

And another.

The nebula is thought to have been first observed by the Mayans in Central America in ancient times, but a recorded discovery goes to the French astronomer Nicolas-Claude Fabri de Peiresc on Nov. 26, 1610.

This is one of closest star formations where stellar evolution is taking place and is thought to be at least 3 million years old. Very young by galactic standards.

And finally, here is a more detailed outline for those of your who got a telescope for the holidays and want to find this celestial gem to view and share with others.

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 at 3 a.m.

Podcasts are available here.

Dr. Sky Blog

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Take a tour of a stellar nursery – the Orion Nebula