19 October 2006

Return of The Hunter

    I'm on the hunt, I'm after you.
      Duran Duran

Every season has its familiar little joys we look forward to. Autumn, for me, has leaves, apples, and Halloween. It also marks the return of Orion, The Hunter, to the night sky. I never go out looking for Orion. Still, every year there comes a night when I glance up at the night sky, and there are the three bright stars, all in a row, that comprise his belt.

Like the Ursa Major, the "Big Dipper," Orion is a constellation that dominates the sky. You can't miss it - even in the light polluted skies of central NJ. And no wonder. Orion is home to six of the fifty brightest stars in the sky (our sun included). Two are in the top ten. Rigel is the blue-white star at his left knee. Betelgeuse is the reddish star at his right shoulder. I just read that Betelgeuse is one of the largest stars observed, with a radius roughly the same as that of Jupiter's orbit.

My favorite part of Orion, though, is the Orion Nebula. In clear dark skies, even the naked eye can see that there's something in Orion's sword that isn't a star. With a decent pair of binoculars you can clearly make out the nebula and maybe one or two of the young stars within. View it through a telescope and you're in for a treat. It quickly fills the eyepiece with purple clouds and tiny pinpoints of light from newborn stars. If I were Carl Sagan I'd have a more eloquent description, but for me it's just cool.

Tonight it's cloudy, so you can't see any stars. It's been a week since I spotted Orion. I meant to post this sooner, but I seem to have less blogging time, lately. But the idea stayed with me, so here it is.


Sharon GR said...

You just have to get up earlier :) ; it was crystal clear on Monday morning at 6AM. Crystal clear.

Sharon GR said...

Looking out, it should be good and clear in Central NJ tonight, too.