It’s Time to Look for Orion, the Mighty Hunter

ImageOrion, the hunter, is one of the most popular constellations in the night sky; so you may have already seen him this winter or in late fall. Throughout the year, no matter the season, when I am in schools with our Discovery Dome portable planetarium someone often asks me to point out Orion. The mighty hunter is also one of the largest and easiest constellations to find. Most people find it by locating the three stars that make up Orion’s “belt” which is an asterism or recognizable group of stars that are part of a constellation. The names of the three stars that make up Orion’s belt are Alnitak, Alnilam and Minatka. One of the brightest stars in the sky is on Orion’s right shoulder. It’s called Betelgeuse.

Orion’s belt is the only group of three stars that are spaced so evenly making them very easy to recognize. Once you have found the belt, the hunter easily pops into view especially when it is right overhead during the cold evenings of winter.

Besides being easy to spot, the constellation Orion is also where you will find one of the most beautiful objects in the night sky, the Orion Nebula. Count down to the third bright object in Orion’s sword and you will find not a star but the Orion Nebula. With binoculars focused on this object, you will find many stars rather than one.

So the next time you look for Orion in the night sky be sure to also take a look at the third object in his sword for the giant cloud of gas and dust that makes up this birthplace or stars and solar systems.

Image

The Orion Nebula from the Hubble Space Telescope.
Credit: NASA

 

Trick or Treat In the Night Sky on Halloween

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As you Trick or Treat down your neighborhood streets take a look in the sky to see who you just might meet!  As you Trick or Treat!  Look up above at the groups of stars in your sky on “Halloween Night” to meet your seasonal constellations.  Constellations can be defined as a group of stars that make an imaginary shapes in the night sky.  They are usually named after mythological characters, people or animals and objects.

Here are a few characters you can look for:

The Winged Horse Pegasus- Four bright stars that form a square.

Princess Andromeda- Andromeda is connected to ” Pegasus” forming a “V”.

King Cepheus: Stars forming an upside down stick figure house.

Queen Cassiopeia- Stars forming the letter “W” .                                                                                    

HAPPY HALLOWEEN !!!!

Spot a Nova in the Sky Tonight!

Alert! A nova has been discovered in the constellation Delphinus the Dolphin and it’s getting brighter each day! Novae visible to human eyes only happen once or twice every ten years. This nova can’t be seen with the naked eye yet, but we think it might be soon. delphinus

Two days ago (August 14th) an amateur astronomer named Koichi Itagaki discovered the nova in the constellation Delphinus the Dolphin. Since then, the nova has increased in brightness almost exponentially. Although it isn’t quite visible to the naked eye just yet, it is easily found through binoculars. It is quite possible that its brightness could increase even more in the next few days.

To see the nova, you’ll need a pair of binoculars or a small telescope. Locate the Summer Triangle high over head after sunset. Delphinus is a small parallelogram of stars to the lower left of the triangle. The nova is about two thirds the distance between Delphinus and the edge of the triangle.

What is a nova? The name comes from the Latin word for “new”, because novae seem to be “new stars” that appear in the sky suddenly. This is not actually the case, however. Novae are not to be confused with supernovae. Supernovae are huge explosions that occur when a large star ends its life cycle.

A nova is a sudden increase in brightness in an existing star. One cause of this occurs in a binary system (two stars orbiting each other closely). Sometimes matter will transfer from one star to the other, causing a flareup. Imagine pouring gasoline on a fire.

If you are unable to spot the nova from your backyard, check out the video below from space.com; it shows live footage of the nova taken from the Canary Islands last night.