Turn Right At Orion: Travels Through the Cosmos

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It was Sirius — the brightest star in the sky. Both stars are supergiants, roughly , times brighter than the Sun. A thousand times wider than the Sun, it would swamp all the planets out to Jupiter if it were placed in our solar system. A star near the end of its life, Betelgeuse is unstable, and fluctuates in brightness as it tries to get a grip on its billowing gases. In the not-too-distant future, it will explode as a supernova: but remember — in cosmic terms, that means a few million years.

Rigel is smaller than Betelgeuse, but brighter; it shines a brilliant blue-white, reflecting its incandescent temperature of 11,K. But the true glory of Orion is its nebula. The nebula is lit by a small star cluster made of infant stars — just , years old yesterday to astronomers — which moderate telescopes can make out as four stars the Trapezium. But the dark natal material in the nebula probably hides thousands more. So: with starbirth and stardeath on the agenda, Orion looks to be a pretty busy corner of the cosmos for millions of years to come. The skies are ablaze with stars this month, so put on your winter woollies and check out the best celestial show of the year!

And use mighty Orion as a celestial signpost to the stars and constellations of the brilliant winter constellations. Sirius, also known as the Dog Star, in the jewel in the crown of the constellation of Canis Major, the great dog.

Orion Eden

These are the first two in a great arc of stars straddling the southern skies. Next up are the twin stars of Pollux and Castor, in the constellation Gemini. Turn down towards the lower right, and you come across the Seven Sisters or Pleiades and the red star Aldebaran, marking the angry red eye of the heavenly bull, Taurus, which is attacking Orion. The crescent Moon forms a lovely sight with the planetary pair in the morning twilight on 15 January.

Finally, look out for an unusually brilliant full moon on the very last night of January. And people in North America and Asia are lucky enough to see the Moon eclipsed tonight — though the UK and the rest of Europe miss out on the action. You can find our Community Guidelines in full here.

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Tech culture. News videos. Explainer videos. Sport videos. When Earth passes through these cascades of comet waste, the bits of debris — which can be as small as grains of sand — pierce the sky at such speeds that they burst, creating a celestial fireworks display. Instead, the burning bits come from the previous passes. For example, during the Perseid meteor shower you are seeing meteors ejected from when its parent comet, Comet Swift-Tuttle, visited in or earlier, not from its most recent pass in The name attached to a meteor shower is usually tied to the constellation in the sky from which they seem to originate, known as their radiant.

For instance, the Orionid meteor shower can be found in the sky when stargazers have a good view of the Orion constellation. The best way to see a meteor shower is to get to a location that has a clear view of the entire night sky. Ideally, that would be somewhere with dark skies, away from city lights and traffic. To maximize your chances of catching the show, look for a spot that offers a wide, unobstructed view.

Bits and pieces of meteor showers are visible for a certain period of time, but they really peak visibly from dusk to dawn on a given few days.

Reinventing Space Flight

Meteor showers can vary in their peak times, with some reaching their maximums for only a few hours and others for several nights. The showers tend to be most visible after midnight and before dawn. It is best to use your naked eye to spot a meteor shower. Binoculars or telescopes tend to limit your field of view. You might need to spend about half an hour in the dark to let your eyes get used to the reduced light. Stargazers should be warned that moonlight and the weather can obscure the shows. The Quadrantids give off their own New Years fireworks show.

Compared with most other meteor showers, they are unusual because they are thought to have originated from an asteroid. They tend to be fainter with fewer streaks in the sky than others on this list. There are records from ancient Chinese astronomers spotting these bursts of light more than 2, years ago. This shower comes from Comet Thatcher, which journeys around the sun about every years.

The Orion Connection

Its last trip was in and its next rendezvous near the sun will be in Its sister shower, the Orionids, will peak in October. Specks from the Eta Aquariids streak through the sky at about , miles per hour, making it one of the fastest meteor showers. Its display is better seen from the Southern Hemisphere where people normally enjoy between 20 and 30 meteors per hour during its peak. The Northern Hemisphere tends to see about half as many.

They come from Comet 96P Machholz, which passes by the sun every five years. Its meteors, which number between 10 and 20 per hour, are most visible predawn, between 2 a.


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It tends to be more visible from the Southern Hemisphere. The Perseids light up the night sky when Earth runs into pieces of cosmic debris left behind by Comet Swift-Tuttle. The dirty snowball is 17 miles wide and takes about years to orbit the sun.


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