The Orion Nebula, one of the largest diffuse nebulae in our skies


The Orion Nebula is a diffuse nebula situated in the Milky Way, being south of Orion’s Belt in the constellation of Orion.


What is the Orion Nebula?

The Orion Nebula also known as Messier 42, M42, or NGC 1976 is one of the brightest nebulae, and is visible to the naked eye in the night sky. M42 is located at a distance of 1,344 ± 20 light years and is the closest region of massive star formation to Earth. The M42 nebula is estimated to be 24 light years across. It has a mass of about 2000 times the mass of the Sun. Older texts frequently refer to the Orion Nebula as the Great Nebula in Orion or the Great Orion Nebula.

The Orion Nebula is one of the most scrutinized and photographed objects in the night sky, and is among the most intensely studied celestial features. The nebula has revealed much about the process of how stars and planetary systems are formed from collapsing clouds of gas and dust. Astronomers have directly observed protoplanetary disks, brown dwarfs, intense and turbulent motions of the gas, and the photo-ionizing effects of massive nearby stars in the nebula.


The Orion Nebula contains a very young open cluster, known as the Trapezium due to the asterism of its primary four stars. Two of these can be resolved into their component binary systems on nights with good seeing, giving a total of six stars. The stars of the Trapezium, along with many other stars, are still in their early years. The Trapezium is a component of the much larger Orion Nebula Cluster, an association of about 2,800 stars within a diameter of 20 light years.Two million years ago this cluster may have been the home of the runaway stars AE Aurigae, 53 Arietis, and Mu Columbae, which are currently moving away from the nebula at velocities greater than 100 km/s


The nebula is visible with the naked eye even from areas affected by some light pollution. It is seen as the middle “star” in the “sword” of Orion, which are the three stars located south of Orion’s Belt. The star appears fuzzy to sharp-eyed observers, and the nebulosity is obvious through binoculars or a small telescope. The peak surface brightness of the central region is about 14 millinits and the outer bluish glow has a peak surface brightness of 21. 0.27 millinits.

Image: ESO / IDA / Danish
Text: Wikipedia contributors. “Orion Nebula.” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 18 Jul. 2017. Web. 2 Aug. 2017

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