Orion’s Sword

Orion’s Sword

Orion, other than the Big Dipper, is by far the easiest constellation to spot in the sky, especially during the winter. The picture at the left is Orion as will be seen on January 31 about 7:30 pm from San Angelo, looking to the southeast. It will gradually move toward the southwest.

We are going to strike Orion below the belt. That’s where we’ll find his sword. While it may look like only three faint stars to our eyes, Orion’s Sword reveals a lot of bling through binoculars.[1] The three stars of Orion’s Belt jump out at you midway between Orion’s two brightest stars, Betelgeuse and Rigel, which are two of the brightest stars in the sky. Once you find the Belt stars, you can also locate the Orion Nebula, otherwise known as M42, a stellar nursery where new stars are being born.

The middle “star” of the sword is actually the Orion Nebula, a huge cloud of glowing hydrogen gas. Such clouds are interstellar maternity wards,” where dense pockets of gas and dust are giving birth to new stars. The Orion Nebula has already spawned more than a thousand stars, and more are still to come. Many of these stars are incredibly hot, emitting lethal levels of ultraviolet radiation.

Just for fun, do a Google search for Orion Nebula. A good one is on EarthSky (http://earthsky.org/space/orion-nebula-jewel-in-orions-sword).

[1] Phil Harrington, “Binocular Universe,” Astronomy (65, 2, February 2017), p. 70

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