Huge swaths of orange in a night sky view that wraps around the constellation Orion.
Photo by Andrew Klinger via Astronomy Picture of the Day

The first time I saw a picture of Barnard’s Loop (the arc running through Orion), I was astonished at the scale of it in the sky. I always had it in my head that (aside from the Milky Way, anyway), most of the astronomical features we see in photos are not just too faint but too small to see with the naked eye. The fact that I could instantly see the scale, because it wraps through a constellation I know, really drove home the fact that a lot of features don’t need telescopes, just long exposures. (And the right film/sensors and filters.)

I had hoped that the darker skies near San Simeon on the central California coast would have made it easier to spot Comet Lulin, but no such luck. First the clouds rolled in around sunset. I checked around 9:45 and they’d cleared enough to see very clearly out toward the ocean, but the lights of town were directly below Leo, so I drove down the highway a few miles to a scenic viewpoint with a wide parking area, stopped the car, and tried not to let passing traffic ruin my dark adaptation.

Once again, no luck spotting the comet (though I’ve at least determined that the bright spot next to Saturn was just a star), but an excellent view of the stars. And I spotted 4 or 5 meteors during the ~30 minutes I was out there, all in the direction of Orion and Canis Major. (One of them, maddeningly, flashed by just moments before one of my photos started.)

I did manage to catch an airplane as it transited in front of Canis Major and Orion, shown in this photo. (I should have called it a UFO.) And the view was far better than any night sky in suburbia, so the side trip was absolutely worth it!