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Gazing deeper into the Orion Constellation (Image Gallery) Part I

by Dani Johnson

January 4, 2013

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Donate I want to continue with the Orion constellation this week to go over each of the components in greater detail. There are parts of the Orion constellation that one can see with the naked eye but there are also quite a few deep sky objects that can only been seen through a powerful telescope. Luckily, we live in the year 2013 and nearly all of us posses the technology to view images of the sky through a device that can fit in one's pocket. Imagine what Galileo would think of such nonsense! He would probably think of it as sorcery or a magic box, but I also like to imagine he could be reasoned with and would allow himself to be immersed in the magnificent beauty of the visible (but not through the naked eye) universe.

I have provided a map of the Orion constellation to help you determine the location of each body described (I have only included the stars that have been named):

(image courtesy of Universe Today)

Star Stats

I have provided star stats for the named stars in the Orion constellation:


Name: Betelgeuse - Alpha Orionis (? on map)

Distance: 640 Light-years

Apparent Magnitude: .4 to 1.2 Magnitude (variable star)

System: Single

Age: 10 Million Years

Classification:Red Supergiant

Mass: 20 Suns

Luminosity: 14,000 Suns


Name: Rigel - Beta Orionis (? on map)

Distance: 850 Light-years

Apparent Magnitude: 0.03 to 0.3 Magnitude (variable star)

System: Triple

Age: 10 Million Years

Classification: Blue Supergiant

Mass: 18 Suns

Luminosity: 85,000 Suns


Name: Bellatrix - Gamma Orionis (? on map)

Distance: 500 Light-years

Apparent Magnitude: 1.64 Magnitude (eruptive variable)

System: Single

Age: 20 Million Years

Classification:Blue-white Giant

Mass: 8.4 Suns

Luminosity: 6400 Suns

Alnitak, Alnilam, and Mintaka (left to right) are a part of Orion's Belt.


Name: Mintaka - Delta Orionis (? on map)

Distance: 800 Light-years

Apparent Magnitude: 2.23 Magnitude

System: Binary

Age: 3 Million Years

Classification:Blue-White Supergiant

Mass: 20 Suns

Luminosity: 10000 Suns


Name: Alnilam - Epsilon Orionis (? on map)

Distance: 1,000 Light years

Apparent Magnitude: 1.7 Magnitude

System : Single

Age: 4 Million Years

Classification:Blue-White Supergiant

Mass: 20 Suns

Luminosity: 375,000 Suns


Name: Alnitak - Zeta Orionis (? on map)

Distance: 700 Light-years

Apparent Magnitude: 1.72 Magnitude

System: Binary

Age: 6 Million Years

Classification: Blue Supergiant

Mass: 20 Suns

Luminosity: 7000 Suns


Name: Saiph - Kappa Orionis (? on map)

Distance: 722 Light-year

Apparent Magnitude: 2.06 Magnitude

System: Single

Age: 11 Million Years

Classification: Blue Supergiant

Mass: 17 Suns

Luminosity: 65000 Suns


Name: Hatsya - Iota Orionis (? on map)

Distance: 1,300 Light-years

Apparent Magnitude: 2.77 Magnitude

System: Quadruple

Age: 5.5 Million Years

Classification:Blue Giant

Mass: 15 Suns

Luminosity: 14000 Suns


Name: Meissa - Lambda Orionis (? on map)

Distance: 1000 Light-years

Apparent Magnitude: 3.5 Magnitude

System: Binary

Age: 6 Million Years

Classification: Blue Giant

Mass: 25 Suns

Luminosity: 65,000 Suns

Deep Sky Objects

Orion Molecular Cloud Complex

The Orion Molecular Cloud Complex is the neighborhood that most of the deep sky objects associated with it reside. It is about 15,000 light-years away and is several hundred light-years across. It is a complex nebula with a range of bright and dark regions (some can even be seen without a telescope!) which makes it extremely difficult to photograph. It has become pretty famous because of this, enticing Astrophotographer Josh Knutson and Salvatore Grasso to team up and take a 28-hour exposure over seven days to make the amazing image featured above.

NGC 1999

The NGC 1999 is a reflection nebula that shines only because of the light from the star called V380 Orionis. The nebula is actually a cloud of material that is left over from the formation of the star. The temperature of this young star is about 10,000 degrees Celsius and its mass is about 3.5 Suns. The Bok globule stands out as the remarkably dark cloud in the center of the nebula. The cloud was named after the late University of Arizona astronomer Bart Bok and it is a cold cloud of gas, various molecules and dust that is so dense that no light can pass through.

The Orion Nebula

The Orion Nebula is the most popular feature of the Orion Molecular Cloud Complex and it is one of the most extensively studied celestial features in the entire night sky. The Orion Nebula can also be referred to as Messier 42 or NGC 1976 and it is about 24 light-years across which is 12 times as wide as our Solar System. The interstellar cloud of dust also contains hydrogen gas, helium gas and plasma. The gravitational pull inside the nebula is so strong that components of the nebula are pushed into each other so hard that the massive amounts of dust, gas and plasma are crammed into a core so dense that nuclear fusion will actually occur and produce a brand new star. The very reason why this nebula is so famous is because we can learn more about how stars are formed and how nebulae of this type behave. Scientists have found about 700 stars within the Orion Nebula, all at varying stages of life and even about 150 protoplanetary disks.

The Orion Trapezium

The Orion Trapezium is an easily viewed group of four bright, massive stars that are each more than 100,000 times brighter than our Sun. It doesn't stop there, either, the Trapezium are surrounded by more than 1000 faint, low-mass stars that are actually very similar to our Sun. We just don't know why they are all gathered together like they are at a concert performed by the lovely Orion Nebula. One theory explains their strange gathering by saying the individual stars all formed somewhere else but wound up coming together and another theory explains that they were formed right where they are now. Since we still haven't discovered time travel, we will have to look for similar clusters in the sky that are younger than this one so we can find out how they formed.

De Mainran's Nebula

De Mairan's Nebula is also referred to as Messier 43 and it surrounds the variable star N U Orionis (HD 37061). It contains at least 11 protostars, which means that there are more stars being born in this area of the sky than in any of the nearby molecular clouds.

Messier 78

Also called NGC 2068, Messier 78 is a reflection nebula that is about 1,600 light-years from earth and is about 4 light-years long. The nebula is illuminated by early B-type stars and it is surrounded by about 45 low-mass stars that are similar to T Tauri and are probably just stellar infants. "Observations of the gas in these clouds reveal gas flowing at high velocity out of some of the dense clumps. These outflows are ejected from young stars while the star is still forming from the surrounding cloud. Their presence is therefore evidence that these clumps are actively forming stars." Says Nancy Atkinson Senior Editor for Universe Today

We have covered a lot so far, but there are still more deep sky objects in the Orion constellation. Join me next week to finish gazing deep into this portion of the sky.


Betelgeuse - Ticking Time Bomb

Alpha Orionis (Betelgeuse)


Spitzer and Hubble view Orion



Orion Nebula

Orion Constellation Guide

Orion Constellation: Facts about the Hunter



Mintaka Mintaka

Messier 43


Iota Orionis


Bellatrix Universe Today

Further Reading:

Fun with Double and Variable Stars

Orion Revisited: Astronomers Find New Star Cluster in Front of the Orion Nebula

The Next Orion Nebula


by Dani Johnson

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