The wintertime skies are dominated by one constellation, Orion. It is the second most recognized constellation in the sky.
Orion contains primarily bright blue stars, but it also has one reddish star. It also contains the brightest nebula in the northern hemisphere.
In mythology, Orion was a mighty hunter. In the Middle East, Orion was called “Al-Jabbar,” the giant. Homer mentioned Orion in the “Odyssey” and the “Iliad.” J.R.R. Tolkien referenced Orion in “The Lord of the Rings” as the “Swordsman of the Sky.”
Orion is visible from the entire Earth. The three bright blue stars that are similar in brightness and are close together make up the belt of Orion. They are all blue giant stars, which indicate that they are the hottest type of all stars. The average luminosity for these stars is 20,000-40,000 times our sun. These stars are on the Earth’s equator.
Above and to the left of Orion’s belt is Betelgeuse, a red giant. It marks the shoulder or arm of Orion. It is a very large and old star. Betelgeuse has used up most of its fuel and has expanded. If placed at our sun’s position, its gaseous shell would extend past Mars.
To the lower right of Orion’s belt is Rigel, a large super blue-white star. It is the seventh brightest star visible in the night sky. With a medium size telescope, a dim binary star can be viewed.
The most interesting object in Orion is the bright nebula that can be viewed just below the three belt stars. This faint, cloud-like feature can be viewed without any optical aid. It is known as the “Sword of Orion,” and the Orion Nebula. Charles Messier designated it in 1769 as Messier 42, or “M 42.” Using binoculars or a telescope, this object will be more easily visible.
At the center of the nebula are four faint stars called the Trapezium, which are the source of the nebula’s bright glow. The glow is caused by the gas and dust being ionized by the light from the stars.
Images taken by the Hubble Space Telescope have captured new stars being formed. Eventually, planets will form within the Orion Nebula.
Mars can still be viewed in the evening sky. It will be the reddish-orange object in the western horizon.
Mercury returns to the evening sky this month. It will be the brightest on the nights from Feb. 15, to the end of the moth.
On the morning of Feb. 18, Venus and Saturn will appear extremely close. Also look for Jupiter to the upper right of the moon. Look for the crescent moon to be in between Jupiter and Saturn, with Venus closer to the horizon on the morning of Feb. 28.
The next meeting for the Springfield Astronomical Society will be on Feb. 26. It will be at the Library Center at 4653 South Campbell Avenue, Springfield. Starting time is 7 p.m., in Meeting Room B. Our website is http://www.springfieldastronomy.org.
Dale Flippo is a Christian County resident from Clever who regularly stuns the staff of the Christian County Headliner News with his knowledge of space, planets, our solar system and so much more.