Orion Nebula

Messier 42

NGC 1976

Magnitude: +4.0
Apparent size:85 x 60 arc min
Diameter:34.7 light years.
Distance:1,400 light years.

Finally the clouds cleared – after 34 days! I got three beautiful clear nights in a row outside with my telescope! This is my “annual” image of M42, each time trying to improve on the last. It is undoubtedly one of the best nebulae in the sky, second only perhaps to the Eta Carina Nebula.

M42 is a gaseous emission nebula, which means that rather than merely reflecting starlight, the gas is illuminated due to their atoms being excited by ultra-violet light from hot new-born stars within the nebula.

The bright comma shaped object at the top of the nebula actually has it’s own classification: M43. The fuzzy patch at the top edge of the image is the Running Man Nebula, to be featured here on Cosmic Focus soon.

Feature image date:2021-01-09.
Exposure:88 frames @ 63.8 seconds each = 94½ minutes.
Field of view:1.57° x 1.04° deg. Up is 326° E of N.

The brightest part of the nebula contains a tiny group of four very young stars, known as the Trapezium. It this region which makes M42 difficult to image, because cranking up the exposure to get the faint wispy streams of gas tends to grossly over-expose the bright region.

The following is an image of the four Trapezium stars, which I took with a Schmidt-Cassegrain telescope ten years ago. That bright over-exposed region in the feature image above is shown here much enlarged, horizontally inverted and light blue instead of white:

2011-01-01 Heart of Orion Nebula M42

Here’s where M42 is located in the sky, using images generated for me by Astrometry.net:

You can spot the Orion Nebula very easily with the naked eye – and even better with binoculars or camera. You won’t see the colour without a camera. It’s just above Orion’s Belt in the Southern Hemisphere, (below it in the Northern Hemisphere):

2021-01-11 Orion Nebula as seen in the Southern Hemisphere.
Canon 60D 135mm 2.5 sec f/2 ISO6400

Telescope Details

SkyWatcher Esprit 120 mm apochromatic 3-element refractor; 840 mm f/l @ f/7.
Field flattener; no filter.
SkyWatcher EQ6-R Pro mount; ZWO ASI120 guide camera.
Imaging camera: ZWO ASI 071 MC Pro (CMOS 28.4mm 16 Mpx).
Software: EQMOD, PHD2, SharpCap, Gimp.
Observatory location: 34° South.

See annotated image at Astrometry.net

Images © Roger Powell

I’m a founder member of Macarthur Astronomical Society


  1. Wonderful photos!
    I once got lost in the Orion Nebula. A friend had combined all his barlows to make a ridiculously high power in my 200mm dob. The Trapezium filled the field. Felt like I was falling in.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Not a bad place to lose yourself in – and I understand there are many more than just four stars there.

      With such a narrow FOV it would have been quite a feat to even locate the Trapezium, let alone keep it there.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Good point. When I had a 60mm scope, I would point out the stars in the Trapezium.I could see three, my daughter would say ‘but there are four, dad’. Oh, the eyes of youth.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. I was much the same. I once wanted to image the Pleiades at our dark sky site. I recall asking a friend to use his laser to point it out, because I couldn’t see it. That was when I began to realise something was wrong.

          Then I had my cataracts removed and I have perfect long distance vision. I can see the Pleiades easily, even in my light polluted sky.

          Liked by 1 person

  2. That is a beautiful image. I stepped outside briefly last evening for a sky view. Orion was there along with many other groupings. Thanks for sharing this closeup.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. As a kid, sometimes I would see Orion in the morning in late August when our family would go on vacation and my parents would leave in the early morning to get down the road while we were sleeping.

        Liked by 1 person

  3. Whoa, these images are awesome, especially as a sequence! I love seeing the detail in the first, then the heart of the nebula in the second, and finally a farther image that reminds me that even this wonder is a small part of our dazzling universe.


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