Astronomy Photo of the Day: 1/14/15 — The 3D Nature of Orion

We typically think of nebulae as 2 dimensional, based on how they look on film, but this incredible image of Orion — a nebula that needs no introduction — gives us a gander at its 3D structure. Just one glance at it and you’ll see why this is the most famous nebula of its kind.

Tucked within just 24 light-years of spacetime, there are hundreds, perhaps a thousand, fiery cradles of starbirth, containing the overall mass of around 2,000 Suns. Each star contributes to the colorful nature of the nebula, they also carve shells into the surrounding clouds of superheated gas, with wispy tendrils of dust providing much needed contrast to the blue and pink hues.

Orion (also known as Messier 42) may very well be the most well-studied star-forming region in the galaxy, but despite that, it keeps finding new ways to surprise us. Most recently. researchers uncovered new information concerning a little-known star cluster, called NGC 1980, that appears to be independent of the primary nebula.

The brightest and most spectacular star, dubbed Iota Orionis, is on the bottom left. While from our vantage point, it appears to be one exceptionally bright star, it’ actually a quadruple star system (the largest of which, is 15-solar-mass gargantuan O-type star) packed together so tightly, the stars masquerade as one. Now, astronomers believe them to be a part of this newfound cluster.

As for Orion, it lurks around 1,500 light-years from Earth in a constellation of the same name. The disk-like structures surrounding Iota Orionis is an illusion of some sorts: created as a consequence of ‘internal light reflection within the camera’s optics.’

Sources & Other Resources:

Image Credit: CFHT/Coelum (J.-C. Cuillandre & G. Anselmi)

Astronomy Photo of the Day: 8/3/15 — Orion

The Great Nebula of Orion (otherwise known as NGC 1976, Messier 42, and M42) is equal parts large and awe-inspiring, spanning around 25 light-years across (around 150 trillion miles/225 trillion kilometers), and hosting roughly 2,000 solar masses of material (one solar mass is equal to one Sun-mass star).
Many of the most famous nebulae in our galaxy call the Orion Molecular Cloud “home,” including the Eagle Nebula, the Horsehead Nebula, the Running Man Nebula & the Pillars of Creation (which technically reside within the Eagle nebula).

The Running Man nebula and another region called Barnard’s Loop are present in this remarkable image of the Orion Nebula, and the larger complex.

Naturally, the whole lot is tucked inside the constellation of Orion (found around 1,500 light-years from Earth).

Taken by Patrick Gilliland, this is 1 of 2 images by Gilliland in the running for a contest hosted by Royal Museums Greenwich. The winner of the “astronomy photographer of the year” award will ultimately be announced next month.

See other contestants:

Image Credit: Patrick Gilliland

NASA Astronomy Picture of the Day 2015 January 19

Infrared Orion from WISE

The Great Nebula in Orion is an 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 four-panel mosaic taken in different bands of infrared light 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 orange 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.

Astronomy Picture of the Day: 02/03/14 - Orion Nebula Deep Exposure

The Orion constellation is a very dynamic section of sky, home to a host of interesting objects. This particular image is a deep exposure of the region of sky around Orion’s Belt.

First, the three bright stars you see are the three stars of Orion’s Belt. In this image, the lowest of the stars is Alnitak. Below Alnitak, you can see the Flame Nebula and just to its right you can see the famous Horsehead Nebula. Near the upper right you can see the M42, also known as the Orion Nebula. Immediately to the left of M42, you can see an open cluster of stars sometimes referred to as the Running Man.

Most of the objects pictured here are about 1,500 light-years from Earth and the image itself spans a distance of 75 light-years.

Sources and further reading: