Messier 42

One of the most famous nebulas in the night sky as you have never seen it before

Also known by its designation NGC 1976 or M42, Messier 42 is part of one of the most famous and best-known sights in the night sky, Orion the Hunter. Which is why this particular shot of the constellation is all the more special.

Taken by the Atacama Pathfinder Experiment (APEX) – which is based at the European Southern Observatory (ESO) site in Chile’s Atacama Desert and a collaboration between three different organisations including the ESO – this fantastic image shows a blazing trail leading into the bright white region at Orion’s sword or ‘scabbard’ – the Orion Nebula. However, the orange glow of this trail isn’t as dramatic as it seems: it’s actually cold interstellar dust shot in submillimetre wavelengths and overlaid on the visible light image of the Digitized Sky Survey 2.

The Orion Nebula is a stellar nursery; that is, it’s a place where new stars are formed. Currently, it is home to over 700 young stars in various stages of their life and 150 protoplanetary discs that are in the early stages of forming new planetary systems.

To the naked eye, the middle star of Orion’s scabbard looks like a bright, diffuse star, but it only takes a pair of binoculars or a spotting scope to make out the more familiar amorphous shape of the nebula. Striking images of the Orion Nebula can easily be taken with standard equipment – in fact, people have been taking photographs of it as far back as the late 19th Century.

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