Great Nebula in Orion (M42), drawn by John Herschel between 1824 and 1826. | SkyNews
Great Nebula in Orion (M42), drawn by John Herschel in the period 1824-1826 using a 20-foot telescope, engraved by George Aikman for the seventh edition of the Encyclopedia Britannica (Edinburgh: Adam & Charles Black 1842). (Reproduced courtesy of the Specula astronomica minima)

Orion, now and then

Orion is one of the most recognizable constellations in the Canadian night sky. Here’s a view of the Hunter as seen in the early 1800s.

Orion, drawn by W. Harrison and engraved by L. Habert, 1808. | SkyNews
Orion, drawn by W. Harrison and engraved by L. Habert, 1808, from Rees’ Cyclopaedia (Philadelphia: S.F. Bradford, 1806-1820). (Reproduced courtesy of the Specula astronomica minima)

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.

Great Nebula in Orion (M42), drawn by John Herschel between 1824 and 1826. | SkyNews
Great Nebula in Orion (M42), drawn by John Herschel in the period 1824-1826 using a 20-foot telescope, engraved by George Aikman for the seventh edition of the Encyclopedia Britannica (Edinburgh: Adam & Charles Black 1842). (Reproduced courtesy of the Specula astronomica minima)

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