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The Night Sky: Exploring Orion's Treasures


Staff writers
February 3, 2012 — Despite the bitterly cold weather, winter has the lion's share of brilliant stars. Some of the brightest twinkles belong to one famous constellation: Orion, the hunter.


The nebula: a glowing cloud in the shape of a blooming flower made of gas and dust
The nebula: a glowing cloud in the shape of a blooming flower made of gas and dust

Orion is the most recognizable pattern in the winter skies because it vividly resembles itís mythological character Ė a mighty hunter armed with a club and shield.

With its distinctive row of three equally brilliant stars representing Orionís belt, and four surrounding stars marking the shoulders and knees of the giant, this constellation is easily found dominating the southern evening sky all February long.

Marking Orion's right shoulder is the striking orange coloured Betelgeuse - one of the largest stars known, sitting 500 light yearsaway. Even brighter, Rigel marking Orionís left knee, makes for a spectacular contrast with its sparkling blue-white color over 700 light years away.

Dangling below Orionís belt, there is a line of fainter stars just visible to the naked eye called Orion's hanging sword. Look closely at the centre star and you will notice it looks a bit hazy. That's because it's actually a colossal stellar nursery over 1300 light years distant called the Great Orion Nebula.

Even binoculars or a small telescope will reveal the nebula as a glowing cloud in the shape of a blooming flower made of gas and dust. Its amazing to think that you see it glowing from the light of dozens of newborn suns nestled deep inside.

Story filed by astronomer Andrew Fazekas

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