The Great Orion Nebula, March 18, 2009. The constellation Orion is well known in the winter skies. Orion is a hunter, and the stars of the constellation give a good representation of him striding across the southern sky. In the middle of the stars that make his sword there is a fuzzy patch visible to the naked eye. This fuzzy patch is the Great Orion Nebula shown above.
The nebula is also known by the Messier designation of M42, and it consists of enormous clouds of dust and hydrogen gas stretching about 24 light years across. The nebula is located about 1,300 light years from Earth. Deep within the nebula are four young, large, luminous stars called the Trapezium. These brilliant stars are in the brightest part of the photograph, and they illuminate the rest of the nebula, causing the hydrogen clouds to glow pink, and the dust clouds to reflect blue light.
The separate blue nebula cloud half a degree above M42 has the designation NGC 1977. There is another minor Messier object, M43 in the photograph. It is the small, bright knot of nebulosity located immediately above the brightest part of M42.
This photograph is a detail of an Orion's Belt and Sword photograph.
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