Orion’s Belt in December (December)

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    Orion’s Belt in December

    by Paul Downing

    WE
    are creeping slowly into winter, and as promised last time we are going to have
    a closer look at one of the most interesting constellations in the sky – Orion
    the Hunter. If you look in the east
    around
    11pm at the beginning of December you
    will see Orion rising. Use the attached
    chart to recognise it, and be aware that it will be tilted over on it’s side as it rises.

    As it rises higher in the sky during the night it will become more
    upright, and this is because objects move across the sky in arcs, not straight
    lines. When we look in the direction of
    Orion we are looking into one of the spiral arms of our Milky Way galaxy which
    is why there are so many bright stars in the area. In fact the brightest star in our skies – Sirius
    – is located below and to the left of Orion.
    See if you can find it. The top
    left star in Orion is called Betelgeuse, often pronounced "beetle juice"
    and it is one of the largest stars known.
    Shining 60,000 times brighter than our sun it is one of only a dozen or
    so stars large enough to show as a disc in our telescopes. If it was located where our sun is, it would
    swallow the Earth and extend out to the orbit of Jupiter! Now find the three bright "belt" stars
    in Orion and travel downwards until you see some stars and a misty area, which
    is known as the Hunter’s sword. This
    area, located 1,500 light years from Earth, is of great interest to astronomers
    because it is one of the best known examples of what we call nebulae. Nebulae are clouds of gas and dust from which
    new stars are formed, and we know that star formation is currently taking place
    in this area. Attached is a long
    exposure photograph of the nebula, but you don’t need
    a telescope to enjoy this object. Find a
    pair of binoculars and take a look, you will be amazed
    at what you can see.

    This article was printed in December 2006

    Send your astronomy questions to [email protected]

    Also
    see www.paulandliz.org

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