The brightest star cluster is now showing

The distances between us and the stars are simply mind-blowing and beautiful, says our astronomer Rob Nolan.

Christmas and New Year were mild, and wet.

This is not ideal for astronomy. In fact we had only one or two clear nights throughout December. However I did manage to capture a real favourite of mine, and one of the first objects I captured when I started this hobby, the Orion Nebula (M42, also known as The Hunter). This is part of one of the most dominating constellations in the winter night sky.

It is a diffuse nebula situated in the Milky Way, south of Orion’s Belt in the constellation of Orion and it is one of the brightest nebulae in the night sky.

It is 1,344 light-years away and is the closest region of massive star formation to Earth. At an estimated 24 light-years across, it has a mass of about 2,000 times that of our Sun.

The Orion Nebula is one of the most scrutinised and photographed objects in the night sky and is among the most intensely studied celestial features.

The Orion Nebula (M42, also known as The Hunter)

A clue to life’s beginning

The nebula has revealed much about the process of how stars and planetary systems are formed from collapsing clouds of gas and dust.

The core of the Orion nebula (The Trapezium cluster) is extremely difficult to expose without blowing out the details due to the extremely bright stars. Many shots you see of Orion simply have a white, blown- out core. There’s also so much surrounding gas and nebulosity; space really isn’t just black and empty!

This image was taken using my new 350mm Refractor Telescope, meaning those of you with a DSLR or mirror-less camera and telephoto lens can also take a snap of the nebula using short exposures of 10 seconds or fewer if using a static tripod.

The Night Sky, January 2022 – what to see this month:

The new year began with a spectacular Quadrantid meteor shower which peaked on the 3rd and 4th of January, happily coinciding with the first clear nights of the month – hopefully you had the heads-up from my BV Facebook Post and got outside to see them.
It was absolutely fascinating!
The Orion Constellation dominates the sky at this time of year, making it the perfect image of the month for me.
The Orion Nebula is easily visible to the unaided eye, but using binoculars you’ll be able to make out luminous clouds of gas. Look for the fuzzy patch below the three distinctive stars making up Orion’s Belt.
The Earth reached Perihelion, its closest point to the Sun, on the 4th January at 6.54 am precisely. At that time we were a mere 147 million km away from our local star.

Evening turns to morning

At the beginning of the Month, Venus appeared as the Evening Star, but since the 9th January, after passing between us and the Sun, Venus now appears as the Morning Star as you look to the south-east around 7am.
Mercury continues to be visible low in the evening sky, fading as it reached its greatest separation from the Sun on January 7th.
Saturn has been in Capricornus this month, low in the sky towards the south-west setting around 6pm, but will disappear from view shortly, now we’re in the middle of the month.
Jupiter lies to the upper left of these planets early in the evening, setting around 9 pm.
Look to the far side of Aquarius to see Neptune setting below the horizon around 9.30 pm, closely followed by Uranus residing in Pisces, setting later at 2am.

Mars will rise early morning at 6 am – look to the south-east as it moves from near Antares to Ophiuchus and Sagittarius as the month continues.
This next event is time specific: between 5:20 and 6:50 am on January 26th, look to the constellation Lebra to see the Moon pass in front of the double star known as Zubenelgenubi.
At the end of the month, on the 29th of January, the Crescent Moon lies to the right of Venus, with Mars in between before dawn.

by Rob Nolan RPN Photography

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