Weekend Sky Report / Orion Nebula
February 22, 2019
Stars form in huge clouds of gas and dust that some astronomers call “Stellar Nurseries.” The gas accretes or collects together, and as that body gains mass, its own gravity then causes it to collapse in on itself. Once there’s enough matter there, nuclear fusion begins, and a star is born. And much of what we know about star formation, we learned by studying the nearby Orion Nebula.
The Orion Nebula is just over 1300 light years from our solar system, and it’s believed to be an enormous 24 light years across. Because it’s so big, and… relatively close, it’s easily visible to the naked eye, even under bright, suburban skies.
You can find it this evening in the southern sky. Just look for the three stars that make up Orion’s Belt, and look below it for what looks like a smaller collection of stars. In the middle… is the Orion Nebula. Grab some binoculars or any size telescope for a better look.
Now, to you, it’ll just look like a fuzzy cloud around a few stars. But most photos you’ll find of the Orion Nebula are full of brilliant colors and detail. That’s the result of long exposures, or specialized equipment observing wavelengths we can’t actually see. But because astronomers are able to use those tools, we’ve learned so much about how stars are formed.
So if you see it this weekend, you’ll see a spot in the sky where countless stars… came to life.
Jan 10, 2020
looking at a full moon through a telescope, you notice a lot. The craters, the so-called "seas," the "Ocean of Storms-" that's the big sea... So just what are all those geographic features?
Jan 03, 2020
Around 9pm, look low to the southeast to find the brightest star in the night sky. Bright white, twinkling Sirius. Above it, you'll see that iconic winter constellation Orion the Hunter. The orange star at his shoulder is the red supergiant Betelgeuse. Draw a line between Sirius and Betelgeuse, then look to the left, or east to find Procyon (PRO-see-on), another bright white star, and there you have it. A large, nearly perfect equilateral triangle of bright evening stars.
Dec 27, 2019
Betelgeuse is one of the largest stars we've ever discovered. If you were to replace the sun with Betelgeuse, it would engulf all four inner planets from Mercury to Mars, and, by some estimates, even Jupiter.
Dec 20, 2019
At 2300 light years away, the cluster resembles an upside-down Christmas tree with the brightest star representing the base of the tree. The other stars form a loose cone shape that makes it look like Christmas tree lights.
Dec 13, 2019
Auriga is home to three Messier objects, named after 18th century French astronomer Charles Messier, famous for his catalog of deep-sky objects. The three objects are all open clusters, which can be seen through most backyard telescopes.
Dec 09, 2019
The three stars that make up Orion's belt is the giveaway. But there's a lot more to appreciate.
Nov 29, 2019
A globular cluster is a densely-packed group of stars bound by their own collective gravity. The globular we're looking for tonight is Messier 15 -- also known as the Globular Cluster in Pegasus.
Nov 22, 2019
Lots of people can see just those three stars of Orion's belt and know what they're looking at. But look a little closer at the belt with a telescope, or even a good pair of binoculars, and you'll see many more stars.
Nov 15, 2019
There was a full moon this past Tuesday, which means this weekend the moon is in the waning gibbous phase. Waning moons are out in the morning, and this week's mostly clear skies have given us a good view--particularly those of us who drive west into work. If we get clear skies this weekend, take a moment to look west at the gibbous moon.
Nov 08, 2019
The Pleiades is a collection of B-type stars, which are bright, hot, and blue in color. And the stars of the Pleiades are close too-around 450 light years away, which contributes to its brightness. And while you don't need a telescope or even binoculars to appreciate the Pleiades, it certainly helps.
Nov 01, 2019
Cassiopeia is popular with amateur astronomers because it's large, bright, and the main reference point for several deep-sky objects.
Oct 25, 2019
This weekend (Sat, Oct 26, 2019), you can find Uranus in the Eastern sky between the constellations Aries and Pisces with Aries to the left, and Pisces to the right.
Oct 18, 2019
The Great Globular Cluster in Hercules, or M13 was discovered by astronomer Edmund Halley in 1714, and found its way into Charles Messier's catalog of comet-like objects fifty years later.
Oct 11, 2019
It's a full moon this weekend...so what are we seeing when we look at the moon?
Oct 04, 2019
International Observe the Moon Night was started in 2010 by NASA. Specifically, the group responsible for its Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter. Launched in the summer of 2009, it continues to deliver important data today, as well as photos and video of the lunar surface--including the landing sites of all six successful crewed lunar surface missions.
Sep 27, 2019
The aptly named Double Cluster is a favorite among budding amateur astronomers. Not only because its brightness makes it easy to find, but also because its beauty keeps observers coming back.
Sep 20, 2019
The brightest star in the constellation Perseus is Mirfak, and it's where you need to look to find this weekend's target.
Sep 13, 2019
The moon won't officially be full until early morning Saturday, but by most definitions, tonight will be a full moon. It's also Friday the 13th. This coincidence hasn't happened since 2006, and won't happen again for ANOTHER 13 years.