Messier 42 - The Orion Nebula
Constellation - Orion
Distance - approximately 1,600 light years.
The Orion Nebula [the lower pink-colored nebulosity] is very recognizable and is a favorite photographic object among photographers because of its colors as well as its brightness. The illuminated portion of M42 shown in this photograph is approximately 30 light years across.
M42 is believed to be an area where stars are currently forming within the nebulosity's dust and gas. Interestingly, the Orion Nebula is not mentioned in any known ancient or medieval records. It is believed to have been first reported in 1610 by Nicholas Pieresc. M42 is an emission nebula which is caused to glow by high energy ultra-violet radiation from massive luminous stars. The Orion Nebula is just a small illuminated area on a much more massive cloud of hydrogen gas that spans the entire Orion Nebula. M43 is the bright area at the top right of M42.
The emission and reflection nebula complex of NGC 1973-75-77, which lies directly above the Orion Nebula, is often overlooked because of its proximity to the Orion Nebula. However this is a very beautiful object in its own right. I also have a close-up CCD image of the NGC 1973-75-77 complex that can be seen by following this link - NGC 1977.
The star cluster NGC 1980 is located at the bottom of this photo and NGC 1981 is the star cluster located at the top of this photo.
The NGC objects and the Messier objects in this photo comprise the sword hanging from Orion's belt.
Please also follow this link to a higher resolution view of Messier 42 and Messier 43 at the center of the Orion Nebula.
December 17, 2009
The image above is a composite of 30 second, 1 minute and 6 minute exposures. Short exposures were layered into the image with multiple layer masks with Photoshop CS4 to improve the detail of the central portion of the nebula. The main field exposure is an RGB image consisting of 48 minutes per color channel.
Shelter Valley, San Diego County, California.
Optics - Takahashi E-160 at f/3.3
Mount - Astro-Physics 1200GTO
Camera - SBIG STL-11000M