M42: Inside the Orion Nebula
Image Credit & Copyright: Reinhold Wittich
“The Great Nebula in Orion, an immense, nearby starbirth region, is probably the most famous of all astronomical nebulas. Here, glowing gas surrounds hot young stars at the edge of an immenseinterstellar molecular cloud only 1500 light-years away. In the above deep image in assigned colors highlighted by emission in oxygen and hydrogen, wisps and sheets of dust and gas are particularly evident. The Great Nebula in Orion can be found with the unaided eye near the easily identifiable belt of three stars in the popular constellation Orion. In addition to housing a bright open cluster of stars known as the Trapezium, the Orion Nebula contains many stellar nurseries. These nurseries contain much hydrogen gas, hot young stars, proplyds, and stellar jets spewing material at high speeds. Also known as M42, the Orion Nebula spans about 40light years and is located in the same spiral arm of our Galaxy as the Sun.”
Infrared Orion from WISE
Image Credit: NASA, JPL-Caltech, UCLA
“The Great Nebula in Orion is a intriguing place. Visible to the unaided eye, it appears as a small fuzzy patch in the constellation of Orion. But this image, an illusory-color composite of four colors of infrared light taken with the Earth orbiting WISE observatory, shows the Orion Nebula to be a bustling neighborhood or recently formed stars, hot gas, and dark dust. The power behind much of the Orion Nebula (M42) is the stars of the Trapezium star cluster, seen near the center of the above wide field image. The eerie green glow surrounding the bright stars pictured here is their own starlight reflected by intricate dust filaments that cover much of the region. The current Orion Nebula cloud complex, which includes the Horsehead Nebula, will slowly disperse over the next 100,000 years.”
Getting my camera warmed up for the Geminids tonight. I’ve already seen at least a dozen prominent [in size and brightness] meteors. So if you’ve got nothing to do, and are in a good place geographically to see the stars, grab a blanket and head outside to watch one of nature’s best shows all year round! And don’t forget to stay away from looking at any city lights and/or unnatural lights, and give your eyes about half an hour to fully adjust to our starry night sky. Stay warm and happy skywatching, everyone!
"Here tens of thousands of new stars have formed within the past ten million years or so - a very short span of time in astronomical terms. For comparison: our own Sun is now 4,600 million years old and has not yet reached half-age. Reduced to a human time-scale, star formation in Orion would have been going on for just one month as compared to the Sun’s 40 years.
Just below Orion’s belt, the hilt of his sword holds a great jewel in the sky, the beautiful Orion Nebula. Bright enough to be seen with the naked eye, a small telescope or even binoculars show the nebula to be a few tens of light-years’ wide complex of gas and dust, illuminated by several massive and hot stars at its core, the famous Trapezium stars.
However, the heart of this nebula also conceals a secret from the casual observer. There are in fact about one thousand very young stars about one million years old within the so-called Trapezium Cluster, crowded into a space less than the distance between the Sun and its nearest neighbour stars. The cluster is very hard to observe in visible light, but is clearly seen in the above spectacular image of this area (ESO PR 03a/01), obtained in December 1999 by Mark McCaughrean (ESO Very Large Telescope (VLT) at Paranal (Chile).”