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Wednesday, 25 November 2009 14:53

The Naturalist's Corner

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The hunter is back

Orion the hunter, one of the most noted and most recognizable constellations in the heavens is once again gaining prominence in the Northern Hemisphere. The hunter begins stalking the eastern skies around 8:30 p.m. and will be with us, though rising later and later, till he slips into the morning sky next April.

Astronomers believe Orion, as we know him, is more than one million years old and will be with us for one to two million years more. Orion’s sword gleams with another one of the night’s treasures.

This bluish dazzle, observable with the naked eye is the Orion nebulae, an interstellar cloud of cosmic gas and dust. A good pair of 10X binoculars and a dark night can provide a pretty impressive look at the Orion nebulae. Jupiter also dances brightly in the November sky. It is the brightest point of light in the southern sky. With binoculars, you will likely be able to pick out one or more of this giant planet’s larger moons.

Binoculars can also help you get a good view of the Seven Sisters. The Seven Sisters or Pleiades is a small dipper-shaped star cluster that will be with us all winter. If you draw an imaginary line through Orion’s belt from the southeast to the northwest it will point to a bright star – Aldebaran, the eye of Taurus the bull. Just beyond Aldebaran are the Pleiades; they mark the bull’s shoulder. The Pleiades, like Orion, will be with us till April, but they are especially prominent in November when they glow from dusk till dawn.

While this cluster is known as the Seven Sisters, most people will only make out six stars in the dipper, with the unaided eye. Many more stars will come into focus through binoculars. There are more than 100 stars in this cluster. Astronomers believe all the stars in the Pleiades cluster originated from the same cloud of dust and gas more than 100 million years ago.

The Pleiades are out there. The gravitational-bound cluster is more than 430 light-years from Earth. They blaze through the firmament at 25 miles per second.

Another open cluster of stars prominent in the November sky is the Hyades Star Cluster. If you find Aldebaran, you’ve found the Hyades, even though Aldebaran is actually not part of the cluster. It is actually in front of, or nearer to the Earth, than the Hyades. There are about 200 stars in the Hyades cluster. About a dozen are visible to the naked eye, and they mark the head of Taurus.

If you’re reading this on Wednesday, Nov. 25, grab your binoculars and get outside before the waxing moon becomes full on December 1 and puts a golden damper on searching for night objects.

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