As autumn changes to winter in the Northern Hemisphere, the glorious Orion Nebula rises in the early evening, a welcome addition to the amateur’s list of favourite targets. Even in small telescope, the vast stellar nursery, some 1,400 light years from Earth, dazzles the eye with curving wings of gas stretching away to either side of a concentrated star-forming region where larger instruments reveal the four brightest members of the Trapezium, an open cluster of very young stars. Very large instruments, of course, reveal truly stunning tapestries of light and colour across multiple wavelengths. This infrared view was captured by the European Southern Observatory’s Very Large Telescope using the HAWK-I cryogenically cooled infrared camera.
In this new image of the nebula Messier 78, young stars cast a bluish pall over their surroundings, while red fledgling stars peer out from their cocoons of cosmic dust. ESO’s Visible and Infrared Survey Telescope for Astronomy (VISTA) sees near-infrared light, which passes right through dust, permitting astronomers to probe deep into the heart of the stellar environment.
Early risers wishing to see Venus as a dazzling ‘morning star’ need only glance low to the east in the pre-dawn sky. The planet reaches greatest brilliancy on Sunday, 20 September when, for a couple of mornings, it can be seen outshining brightest nighttime star Sirius in the southeast by a factor of seventeen times. Can you see your shadow cast by Venus?