Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Orion returns to the evening sky

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Image courtesy of NASA APOD, click image for more info
(Credit & Copyright: Matthew Spinelli)

Fall stargazing can be tough with all the overcast evenings we get. Tonight was one of those cool clear nights where the stars were brilliant and I was out for a walk. The first thing I saw was Orion low in the south east. Even through city light pollution it is magnificent.

Cubs need to know five constellations as part of their astronomy badge. Orion is an excellent choice because it is easy to find, provides easy pointers to other constellations, and contains a number of interesting objects that are also part of the knowledge needed for the astronomy badge.

Orion's belt is a cluster of three stars running east to west that have been credited for the positioning of Giza's famous pyramids (this has been debunked see Wikipedia). Orion's left shoulder is Betelgeuse, a massive red giant that would swallow Earth and Mars if it replaced our Sun. It so big and the gases inside it so spread out that it has been called a red hot vacuum. It is also the first star, aside from our Sun, to have a picture taken showing anything more than a point of light! One day this star will explode in a supernova bright enough to be seen in daylight. Then it will fade away.

Just below Orion's belt is a series of stars and nebula that are often referred to as Orion's sword. Among these is the great Orion Nebula a stellar nursery where new stars are being born.

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