Last year, the popular Astronomy Picture of the Day website reimagined the famous Orion Nebula (M42) as the Great Turkey Nebula in honor of Thanksgiving. Although there is no giant turkey in the sky (only on your table, for those who celebrate), the Orion Nebula remains one of the autumn sky’s best sights, and it’s worth taking a peek after you’ve finished your coffee and pumpkin pie.
Orion’s Belt just is clearing the horizon around 7:30 P.M. local time these days. Wait at least an hour or two, then step outside to find its three stars: Mintaka, Alnilam, and Alnitak (from west to east). The Orion Nebula itself lies in the sword asterism and sits a little less than 4° south of Alnitak. It’s bright enough (magnitude 4) to see with the naked eye, but really pops with binoculars or a telescope. This vast star-forming nursery spans about 85' by 60' and is located about 1,000 light-years from Earth. If you zoom in on its center, you’ll spot the Trapezium cluster, comprising several young, hot, massive stars. The four brightest stars are easy to see in a small scope. These stars are so hot and bright that their radiant light is clearing away the gas and dust of the nebula that birthed them.
Take some time to digest this stunning deep-sky wonder — and consider whether you think it’s turkey-shaped or not.
Sunrise: 6:57 A.M.
Sunset: 4:37 P.M.
Moonrise: 9:57 P.M.
Moonset: 12:06 P.M.
Moon Phase: Waning gibbous (68%)