Orion's Belt, a photograph by Martin Mutti.
So many people (ok, five…) told me they liked the photograph at the top of my “Starry, Starry Night” post (that photograph is from flickr.com) that I’m posting a NASA website (see below) that archives a photograph each day of an astronomy feature. I chose Orion’s Belt to illustrate this post, because it’s my favorite constellation — probably because it’s easy to identify. Also, the night sky here in Kansas in the winter, when Orion appears, is usually clear.
The NASA Astronomy Picture of the Day website explains the photograph above: Alnitak, Alnilam and Mintaka are the bright bluish stars from east to west (left to right) along the diagonal in this gorgeous cosmic vista taken by Martin Mutti. Otherwise known as the Belt of Orion, these three blue supergiant stars are hotter and much more massive than the Sun. They lie about 1,500 light-years away, born of Orion’s well-studied interstellar clouds. In fact, clouds of gas and dust adrift in this region have intriguing and some surprisingly familiar shapes, including the dark Horsehead Nebula and Flame Nebula near Alnitak at the lower left. The famous Orion Nebula itself lies off the bottom of this star field that covers about 4.5×3.5 degrees on the sky. Mutti took this image in January 2009 with a digital camera attached to a small telescope in Switzerland. It better matches human color perception than a more detailed composite taken more than 15 years ago.
NASA Astronomy Picture of the Day Archive.
“Starry, Starry Night.”
The full moon hung like a huge ornament over the Christmas lights of the Country Club Plaza shopping center in Kansas City on Saturday. When we rounded the curve of Ward Parkway in our car, the sight was breathtaking. At a red light on a bridge over Brush Creek, I jumped out and snapped a couple of shots. I knew they were blurry, but we'd stopped traffic so I couldn't get any more. A woman, who had walked onto the bridge, was also photographing the scene. "Isn't it crazy beautiful!" she exclaimed. I agreed. Next year, I'll set up a tripod and take a proper photograph. This year, you have to pretend it's a painting by Claude Monet.
The full moon adorned the glowing Bloch Building on Saturday. You can see the moon in the center between the trees. Actually, this photo was taken one day after the moon was full, but it's still an impressive sight (much more so in person, really!) On Friday night, the moon appeared 14 percent bigger in our sky, because it was at its closest point to Earth this year. It was also 30 percent brighter than some other full moons during the year, according to space.com. The moon makes a trip around Earth every 29.5 days, but the orbit isn't a perfect circle. On Friday night, the moon was 221,560 miles (356,567 km) away. The average distance is 238,855 miles (384,400 km).
You can't see the moon here, but the Bloch Building creates its own glow. The Bloch, a new addition to the Nelson Atkins Museum of Art, houses contemporary art.
Moonlight illuminates the sky above the Nelson Atkins Museum of Art in Kansas City on Saturday. One of the Nelson's four giant shuttlecock sculptures, by Claes Oldenburg and Coosje van Bruggen, looks as if it just landed on the front lawn. There are four shuttlecock sculptures among the many sculptures in the Nelson's sculpture garden, including a dozen monumental bronzes by Henry Moore and a cast of The Thinker by Auguste Rodin.