It is wintertime for the northern hemisphere. The nights get longer and temperature drops, but for astrophotographers what could be better than to have longer, darker nights so we can start to prepare to take photos in the afternoon? Even though there is no beautiful summer Milky Way, the winter sky is still amazing.
The constellations Orion and Canis Major dominate a big part of the night sky. The great hunter Orion and his hounds in Greek and Roman mythology is known as the god Osiris and goddess Isis in Egyptian mythology. It is a tiger (Orion) and a wolf (Sirius, part of Canis Major) for Chinese star lore. Different stories in different cultures, but these two constellations are difficult to ignore.
If you use a 70mm lens to take a long exposure photo of the Orion constellation you will see a red arc wrap the lower part of Orion. This is the large emission nebula called Barnard's Loop which was named after the astronomer and pioneering astrophotographer E. E. Barnard, who published his long exposure photo of this nebula in 1894.
The Orion Nebula (Messier 42) is one of the most popular targets for stargazing in winter. You only need a pair of binoculars to see this beautiful nebula, which looks like a bird with wings outstretched. For most astrophotographers, including me, it is their first target. Who can resist this beautiful image? Although there is no ancient astrology text related to this nebula, there is one star within the nebula named Nair al Saif, the beautiful one of the sword. Scientists also call this area a stellar nursery, where new stars are being born.
The Horsehead Nebula and the Flame Nebula are another couple of easy targets for the beginner astrophotographer. They are a bit higher than the Orion Nebula and are right next to Orion’s belt. The aforementioned nebula and Barnard Nebula are all part of the Orion Molecular Cloud Complex.
Orion’s belt, which has three stars, is around the celestial equator area. It marks the boundary of the Northern and Southern sky. Some say the Great Pyramid was aligned with Orion’s belt and we know Orion represents Osiris, the God of the deceased and of resurrection. Maybe interpretations of those fixed stars in the Orion constellation could also consider the power of resurrection and a stellar nursery full of vitality.