Orion is among the handful of constellations recognizable on the vault of heaven to many Canadians for whom the night sky is a foreign country. And, for the newly minted astronomer with a recently acquired telescope or binoculars, the Great Nebula in Orion, M42, is sure to be visited after the Moon has received its due of first light. In fact, M42 can be seen with the naked eye from a reasonably dark location.
This late Georgian chart (dated 1808) of Orion, to the left, was printed in North America, and provides us with a window into the conceptual mapping of that celestial region when settler astronomers were mapping the land from which they viewed the heavens. If you look carefully enough, you can see a naked-eye rendering of M42. The detailed view of the nebula is based on observations of John Herschel’s from the mid-1820s. You could take this drawing out with you to compare Herschel’s view to yours.