A quick trip around the winter sky

A quick trip around the winter sky

The winter night sky is a glorious sight and is dominated by the imposing constellation Orion the hunter. This prominent constellation and its bright stars act as stellar signposts helping us navigate the winter sky.

Look high in the south at 9 or 10 pm and a distinct line of three stars can be found. These stars make up the belt of Orion. Draw an imaginary line through these stars and extend it off to the left and you will arrive at the brightest star in the sky, Sirius the dog star. This star also happens to be one of the closest stars to the earth located at a distance of 8.5 light years. Many people believe that it is the North Star that is the brightest star in the sky, but Sirius has the honour. The North Star is doesn’t appear that bright at all.

Back to Orion’s belt again and now look just above and to the left. Here we find a bright red / orange star called Betelgeuse. This star is at the end of its life, having almost completely burnt all of its fuel. It is is in its death throes and any time soon (or in a few thousand years, no-one knows exactly when) it will explode in a massive supernova, blowing itself to bits and lighting up the night sky.

Back to Orion’s bent again and this time just look underneath where you will see a few faint stars and a faint fuzzy patch in between. This fuzzy patch is a stellar nursery and is known as the great Orion nebula. Here, new stars are being born out of clouds of hot gas and dust. If you have a set of binoculars, pull them out as have a look at this through them. It’s not something you will forget in a hurry.

Finally back to those three stars of Orion’s belt again and now extend the imaginary line off to the right until you reach a bright star at the tip of a V shape of stars. This star is called Aldebaran and is in the constellation of Taurus the bull. Keep extending the line and you will reach a small tight star cluster known as the seven sisters. You can see these without optical aid, but the view through binoculars is breathtaking.