Constellation Orion – visible in the evening sky from January to March, in the Northern Hemisphere
Orion is the brightest and probably most recognized constellation in the night sky. It is also known as The Hunter from Greek mythology. It can be found rising in the eastern sky, rising to its highest in the south, finally setting in the western sky. Not only is it the most recognizable, it also contains some of the most sought after DSO’s (deep sky objects) for beginners and the more seasoned observer.
The first and easiest is known as M42, or the Great Nebula in Orion. It can be seen with the naked eye or a decent pair of binoculars as a hazy patch. The nebula is located at a distance of 1400ly (light years), making it one of the nearest star forming regions to earth. The discovery of the Orion Nebula is usually credited to Nicholas-Claude Fabri de Peirsec, when he turned his telescope to the region in 1610.
The next target, although more difficult is the Horsehead Nebula, located 1500ly away. So-called because it resembles a horse’s head. It lies just south of the easternmost star Alnitak in Orion’s belt.
Next would be Betelgeuse, a pulsating red supergiant located at a distance of 642.5ly from earth. Currently Betelgeuse is dimming lending to theories that it has exhausted its fuel and is nearing the end of its life, causing it to go supernova. In just two months it has fallen from 10th brightest to 21st. Betelgeuse is about 20 times the mass of our Sun. Although the current activity does not guarantee a supernova, it’s still a good reason to KEEP LOOKING UP!
Remember to look for Athenry Night Sky on Facebook and join the page. We will keep you up to date on any outreach programs going on, and when and where we are out and about observing. We would love to hear from you if you have any ideas or suggestions on activities to get more folks involved in this great past time.
Clear Skies! Scott