Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Orion !

Monday evening was cold and the wind was blowing from the west but since it is the time of Orion, I couldn't help but go out and have a leisurely look at the most beautiful of constellations. I walked into the driveway, sat my tripod and camera up there and let my eyes adjust to the dark. Orion is so bright - and the night sky was so clear - that this took no time at all.
A close-up (12x) of the "belt" is below (at the bottom of this page is a whole frame shot).

The three stars in the belt are Mintaka (top to bottom), Alnilam and Alnitak. Though they appear about equally bright, they are actually very widely spaced. From top to bottom again, they are 916, 1342 and 817 light years away.
The three stars to the right (pointing to about 5 o'clock) point out the location of the Great Nebula of Orion. It's pretty much centered there, favoring the bottom right. I hoped the camera would pick up some of the colors of the nebula in this 15 second exposure. But that is apparently not long enough.

In this wide view of the entire constellation, the four corner stars are well-known guides. Beginning on the left side of the screen that's Betelgeuse (427 LY) and then going clockwise: Bellatrix (243 LY), Rigel (772 LY) and Saiph (721 LY).
What appears a grouping of stars to us - with it's two distinctive straight lines - is actually an odd assortment of widely diverse stars. There is no constellation at all but from our vantage point.
Still, Orion is the first grouping I remember as a child (unless the Big Dipper came first) and it is the one I watch for each winter. I find nothing so endlessly fascinating as this brilliant group. It is the sign of winter.
There is a constancy in watching for Orion, a satisfaction that the universe goes on unperturbed. What historical figure hasn't admired these stars? What future generation won't look upon them with the same satisfaction as I?