Constellations of the Month
by Rick Raasch
One of the most easily recognized constellations, Orion lies near to
the Milky Way, and thus contains many open clusters and some of the best
nebulae in the heavens. Led by the bright stars Betelgeuse and Rigel,
this constellation holds many fine telescopic and binocular objects, along
with some of the most photographed regions of the sky.
Containing Sirius, the brightest star visible on earth, the constellation
of Canis Major is one of the few constellations in the heavens which resembles
what it is supposed to be: a large dog. This constellation is also rich
in fine open clusters, as it, too, lies along the winter Milky Way. So
bundle up, make some coffee or hot chocolate, and get out under the stars
for some of the finest observing of the year!
M-42 . One of the finest sights in the sky, this nebula is easily
visible to the naked eye as the "fuzzy" star in the middle of
Orion's sword. It appears distinctly nebulous in binoculars or finderscopes,
and shows an amazing amount of detail through the telescope. It is fully
a degree in extent, with a wealth of fine curling wisps of nebulosity
curving out from the brightest region surrounding the four relatively
bright stars known as the Trapezium. On good nights with low power, I
have even been able to see colors in this object. The region around the
Trapezium appears as a cold steel blue color, wile the wispy regions further
away can appear as a soft ruddy pink. Slightly separated from the main
nebulosity, is M-43. This nebula is seen as a comma shaped cloud surrounding
an eighth magnitude star just north of the Great Nebula. The more time
you spend in this area, the more fine detail can be seen.
M-78 This is another fine area of nebulosity. It is about 6' in
diameter, and surrounds two magnitude 10 stars. It is somewhat fan shaped,
and appears comet-like at low powers. NGC's 2064, 2067, and 2071 lie in
very close proximity to M-78, and are all nebulous regions
NGC 1973-75-77 Dubbed the "Running Man" nebula by Jason
Ware, this is a relatively bright region of nebulosity just north of the
M-42 complex. It is large, about 15'x10 and surrounds several relatively
bright stars. The "Running Man" is seen as the dark region between
the areas of nebulosity, and often shows up in wide angle photographs
of the Great Nebula. It would be observed more often if it weren't located
so close to M-42, and greatly deserves more attention.
NGC 2022 This is a small, but relatively bright planetary nebula
about 20" in diameter. It is slightly brighter at the center, and
fades gradually to the edges.
Next Month: Canis Major and Puppis
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