January 16, 2012

A Hunter a Bull, and some Sisters

Looking to the south east just after sundown last night, the 15th of January, this is what you would have seen if, like me you took a 30 second exposure. There are quite a few recognizable constellations in this picture. The most easily recognizable is Orion, just above the clouds in the center of the frame. 

The most distinctive feature of Orion is his belt. Three bright stars named Mintaka, Alnilan, and Alnitak make up his belt. There are another three stars , much closer together, and in a different direction that make up his dagger. Also of note in this constellation are Rigel, the bright star down and to the right of his belt, Betelgeuse the bright orange star up and to the left of the belt on the same line as Rigel, and Belatrix, the bright star above and to the right of Betelgeuse. One of the coolest objects in the night sky I have ever looked at is located in Orion's dagger. The Orion Nebula, visible with even a smaller telescope is a huge cloud of bright blue interstellar dust that is just amazing to look at.

Above Orion, about two thirds of the way up there is a V shaped constellation tipped on its side. This is the central part of Taurus. The brightest star in the V shape, at the bottom left is Aldebaran. Like Betelgeuse it is a massive red giant, many many times larger than our sun. It forms the eye of Taurus the Bull.

Almost at the very top of the frame is the Pleiades, or the Seven Sisters. They are a cluster of bright stars long incorporated in the mythology of many civilizations. They appear to form a tiny little dipper. The name the Seven Sisters is somewhat misleading because even zooming into the photo, and with a telescope, there are only 6 bright stars.

Have a nice night!


  1. Pretty cool photo Graham. Do you know the names of the stars of the Big Dipper?

    1. I do. Starting from the end of the "handle": Alkaid, Mizar, Alioth, Megrez, Phecda, Merak, and Dubhe. My favorite is Mizar. If you have good eyes, you can actually see that there are two stars there, Mizar and Alcor. In larger telescope you can see that Mizar is itself a binary system. This makes 3 stars you can see. With some crazy calculations, you can actually see that all three of those are likely binary pairs as well, possibly making it a 6 star system. Pretty cool!