Posts Tagged ‘M42’

Purplish Manta

ESO/IDA/Danish 1.5 m/R.Gendler, J.-E. Ovaldsen, and A. Hornstrup

A purplish manta ray shape glides through the misty nebulae of the Trapezium Cluster in this image from the European Southern Observatory.

Explore the amazing colors, stars and dust clouds of this star-forming nursery. What shapes and stories do you see? Leave a note in the comments below.

The Trapezium, or Orion Trapezium Cluster, is a tight open cluster of stars at the very heart of the Orion Nebula. The Trapezium is relatively young and formed out of the surrounding nebula. About 2,000 stars; some hiding in the dense dust, make up the loose grouping of stars. The five brightest stars are 15 to 30 times more massive than our Sun. Blazing ultraviolet light from these huge, bright stars light up most of the nebula. Hydrogen atoms, excited by the ultraviolet light, glow pink and purple in the image. Other elements such as helium, carbon, nitrogen and oxygen give other subtle shades of color in the gas.

Even though the Orion Nebula can be seen without a telescope as a hazy patch of light, no historical records seem to exist describing it. Galileo Galilei first sketched three of the stars of the Trapezium on February 4, 1617. But he missed the nebulosity surrounding them. Later in the 17th century, astronomers mapped a fourth star. As telescopes became better, more stars were discovered. Armed with a modest telescope, modern backyard telescopes can resolve six stars. But there is plenty more to explore within the great nebula.

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Star Storm

Credit: C.R. O’Dell (Rice University), and ESA/Hubble & NASA

A storm of starbirth brews inside the Orion Nebula in this image from the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope.

Explore the heart of the most famous star-making nebulae, M42. What stories or shapes do you see in this star cloud? Let your imagination roam and share a note below.

The Orion Nebula is visible in the northern hemisphere sky right now, riding high in the south just after sunset. You can find it just below the three stars that mark Orion’s Belt. It’s the fuzzy spot, the middle star in the sword of Orion. In binoculars, the nebula is obvious.

This image only covers the heart of the Orion Nebula. Stars here are being born constantly. Planetary systems like our solar system may be forming out of the gas and dust left over from a star’s birth. With searing wind and ultraviolet light, the new stars blast away material after they are born. The ultraviolet light from these newborns causes the surrounding nebula to glow.

Located about 1,500 light years away, the massive nebula is one of the closest regions of star formation from Earth. A starship cruising at the speed of light, or 6 trillion miles per year, would take more than 24 years to cross the Great Nebula. But the entire nebula is much larger including the Horsehead Nebula and the Flame Nebula.

Glowing Globs in a Starry Sea

Credit: ESA/Hubble & NASA

Glowing globs of star stuff float in a starry sea in this image from NASA‘s Hubble Space Telescope.

Explore the curious features around young stars still in their dusty cocoons in the lesser-known Orion nebula, Messier 43. What stories and shapes do you see in this nebula? Leave a note below.

Several brilliant young stars show up in this image. These hot stars sculpt the clouds of gas and dust with their blistering solar winds. Searing ultraviolet radiation from these stars excites hydrogen atoms and other atoms in the cloud causing it to light with different colors. Because the Great Nebula in Orion, also known as M42, and M43 are so close to Earth, astronomers have been able to study the nebulae in detail. They can watch how solar winds move gas and dust, watch young stars as they evolve, and discover elusive objects such as brown dwarfs. Brown dwarfs are stars that lack the mass to cause nuclear fusion in their cores and shine on their own as full-fledged stars. They remain hot lumps of gas and dust within the cloud.

The Great Nebula in Orion and M43 are separated only by a massive dark lane of dust. Also known as De Mairan’s Nebula, after its discoverer French astronomer Jean-Jacques Dortous de Mairan in about 1731. The Nebula is part of the huge and nearby Orion Molecular Cloud Complex, which includes the Great Nebula, M43, the Horsehead Nebula and the Flame Nebula. M43 lies only 1,400 light-years from Earth; very close in astronomical terms, toward the constellation of Orion the Hunter. Look for the three bright stars that form the belt of Orion tonight high in the southern sky an hour or so after sunset.

Orion Thunderbird

Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/J. Stauffer (SSC/Caltech)

A thunderbird lurks in the dreamy clouds of the Great Nebula in Orion. Also a colony of hot, young stars shines their way through the enveloping folds of dust and gas.

This churning, cosmic scene is from NASA‘s Spitzer Space Telescope. The Great Nebula, also known as M42, is one of the largest star factories in the Milky Way Galaxy and one of the closest to Earth. Only 1,500 light-years from Earth, the nebula is visible to the naked eye in Orion’s sword, just below the three stars that make up the belt. Spitzer views the universe in the near-infrared; meaning basically it “sees” heat while showing most of what we would normally see with our own eyes.

Explore the image. The bright stars in the center are the hot stars called the Trapezium cluster. Radiation and howling stellar winds from these stars are sculpting and lighting the great nebula. The radiation causes the gas to glow.

Great Nebula in Orion from Hubble

Great Nebula in Orion from Hubble

Note the differences in the image at left of M42 taken from the Hubble Space Telescope. The overall features are the same with the same curling star clouds. Spitzer allows us to view into the dust just a bit more. Being able to do this shows us stars on the verge of being born. Some stars are not visible at all in the Hubble image but stand out clearly when viewed by the Spitzer.

Astronomers will continue to watch for changes in the young stars of Orion. While these young stars are finishing forming, they change in brightness. This could be due to dust clouds moving in front of the stars or the existence of cool spots on their surfaces. These stars are just infant stars; only about a million years old. Our Sun is considered middle-aged at about 4.6 billion years old.

Flower of Orion

Credit: European Southern Observatory (ESO)

Explore the folds and petals of the Orion Nebula in this dramatic new image from ESO’s VISTA survey telescope. VISTA’s infrared vision allows to deeply into this well-known nebula showing young active stars and regions of warm gas. As we peer through a telescope at the Orion Nebula, we see only a small part of the light streaming to us. The infrared sensors on NASA‘s Hubble Space Telescope and VISTA show a much larger complex of gas and dust, all material for new stars to form.

Explore the nebula. We see the familiar flower shaped form of the Orion Nebula and petal-shaped areas of gas surrounding the heart of the nebula. With a little imagination, we can easily see the 3D nature of the nebula with a ledge at the top and at the heart of the Great Nebula lie the four bright stars that form the Trapezium. These young, hot stars send out a strong solar wind that have hollowed out an area of the nebula. Scorching ultraviolet radiation causes the gas to glow. What is new in this image are the countless young stars that cannot be seen in visible light. These young stars, in many cases, are glowing through the clouds in which they formed. These stars also send streams of fast-moving gas screaming at 700,000 miles an hour into the surrounding cloud. Red globs of light show in the upper part of the image and seem to be associated with the collision of the young stars outflow and the peaceful nebula surrounding the new stars. Search also for background galaxies. A bright edge-on spiral can be seen to the right of the center area of the image.

The Orion Nebula, or M42, is one of the biggest star-making factories in the galaxy. And it’s pretty close; only about 1,350 light-years from Earth. The Great Nebula in Orion lies just below the Belt of Orion in the sword and is faintly visible as a glowing cloud of gray-green. French comet-hunter, Charles Messier sketched its main features in the mid eighteenth century and gave it the number 42 in his catalog. William Herschel guessed at the Orion Nebula’s true nature when he said it might be “the chaotic material of future suns.”

VISTA, short for Visible and Infrared Survey Telescope for Astronomy is the latest addition to ESO’s Paranal Observatory in Chile. It is the largest survey telescope in the world with a large, 4.1 meter mirror, wide field of view, and sensitive detectors.


The ancient peoples saw pictures in the sky. From those patterns in the heavens, ancient storytellers created legends about heroes, maidens, dragons, bears, centaurs, dogs and mythical creatures...
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