Orion and Friends

The constellation Orion is a distinctive pattern in the winter sky.  Look for the three-star belt, with another three-star sword hanging from it. Here he is with some of his less visible friends.  The large red arc is Barnard’s Loop, which encircles the Orion Nebula (lower of the two red areas) and the Horsehead and Flame Nebulas

Betelgeuse is the red giant star at Orions shoulder, not to be confused with the circular red Rosette Nebula to the left.  The bright blue star at the lower left is Sirius (the Dog Star), the brightest star in the sky, and sailing above it in the blue river of the winter Milky Way is the red wisp of the Seagull Nebula.

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Lake Superior shoreline near Two Harbors, MN
March 2004
Pentax 6×7, 55mm, f/5.6
E200 +2 stops, 20 minutes, guided

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Orion at the Beach

Orion at the Beach
Kaanapali Beach, Maui HI, 06 April 2001
Pentax 67 w 55mm lens at f/8
16 minute exposure on E200 pushed 1 stop

It looks like a daytime picture but there was only the full moon. With enough exposure, what looks like black sky to me becomes sky blue to the film. The dreamy quality is made by the passage of light clouds blowing through during the exposure, and by the cumulative misty effect of waves breaking on the shore. A rogue wave climbs far up the beach and glistens in the moonlight for a moment before sinking back into the sand. A close look will find masts waving as their moored sailboats maneuver against the wind.

The constellation Orion is hiding in the clouds. The three belt stars make a characteristic cat scratch during the time exposure. To the left, undimmed by faint clouds is Sirius, the brightest star in the sky.

Horsehead and Flame Nebulae

Horsehead and Flame Nebulae
Portage Lake, MN, 25 Nov 2000
20-minutes at f/4, Kodak PJ400 color negative film, pushed 1 stop

This is a favorite target for astrophotographers. It’s a famous image, but quite challenging to capture, partly because it is only visible during the winter months when Orion the Hunter is up. The weather conditions will always be cold, at least in the northern latitudes, and so winter gear is required.

It is not easy to actually see this target. The nearby bright star, zeta Orionis, is a convenient marker, but its glare easily washes out the faint glow of the Horsehead and another nearby object just below zeta, the “Flame Nebula”.

Orion Nebula

Orion Nebula
Cherry Grove Observing Site, MN, 04 March 2000
E200 Ektachrome, superposition of two 10-minute exposures

On most winter nights, the distinctive constellation of Orion the Hunter is plainly visible in the southern sky.  Orion sports a “belt” from which hangs a three-star “sword”.  The Orion Nebula is the smudge of the middle star in Orion’s sword.  A closer look at it reveals that it is not a star at all, but a group of stars shrouded in a cloud of dust and glowing gas.  This is a stellar nursery where new stars are being formed.  As the gas coalesces, it is energized and emits a characteristic red glow, not bright enough to be seen visually, but captured nicely on film.

Orion Rising

Orion Rising
Kinnikinnik Lake, AZ, 14 Nov 1998
24mm Olympus lens at f/2.8, 1 hour exposure on Fuji 800 Superia

I made an expedition to northern Arizona in November of 1998. It was partly to find out what is involved in transporting photo and telescope guiding equipment to other parts of the world. Although cumbersome (I shipped a 90 lb crate ahead to be available when I arrived), it worked.

On the first night I found a remote site in the high desert. The map showed what looked like paved roads to a fishing lake. Evidently the map notations are different in Arizona; at least there were ruts where earlier vehicles had found their way.

The lake was remarkably calm and I marvelled at the darkness of the sky as I watched Orion rise in the east. I could hear wildlife including coyotes, owls, and yes, ducks. But they were far away and the water remained like a mirror. The sky glow here is not from aurora, but instead from distant Flagstaff, a city with an ordinance to use sodium vapor street lighting. The color is strongly yellow, but easily filtered and removed by the astronomical observatories that are hosted by the town. My film however captures all of it.

Although Orion is spread out into an unrecognizable form, he can be identified by the bright orange star, Betelgeuse on the left, and bright blue star Rigel on the right. The triad of belt stars makes a catscratch-like trail, and you may notice a distinctly red star that is even more obviously red in its reflection. This is the famous Orion nebula, a glowing region of gas and dust where new stars are being born.

Monuments at Night, Nov 5

The Orion Nebula, the central star in Orion’s sword.

On this day, I manage to travel to Four Corners, a geographic location that is only meaningful to cartographers marking the human-made political bounds of different territories.  There is certainly no physical or geographic rartionale behind it, as the view from the constructed concrete platform holding the National Geologic Survey brass benchmark is the same in all directions.

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Monuments at Night, Nov 3

An accumulation of light.
Nov 3, 2005, Monument Valley AZ
Pentax 6×7, E200 push 1-stop, 90 minutes at f/4

I am staying at the Hampton Inn in Kayenta Arizona.  It is not your usual traveler’s stopping place that I have become accustomed to in my business travels.  It is an attractive contemporary adobe building, tastefully appointed with beautiful Navajo art and artifacts.  Gentle native music is piped to the public areas.  An interesting Navaho outdoor exhibit is also well presented.  The native American flavor is augmented by modern conveniences—full breakfast, wireless internet, pool, patio, and an attractive and comfortable lobby.

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