Posted by: Kash Farooq | March 18, 2012

Space Scenery: Orion

Continuing the Space Scenery series. In my first post I looked at Mars, this time I’m going to look at something much bigger: Orion.

Here is the Orion constellation. It is easy to spot in the winter sky thanks to the very distinctive Orion’s Belt:

Orion the Hunter

Orion the Hunter. Credit: Matthew Spinelli

The above image is practically what you can see with the naked eye from a dark site. From a light-polluted site you can still see the belt of three stars and surrounding bright stars. The red star at the top left is Betelgeuse. And no, it is not going to kill us all when it explodes. Now let’s look at the same area of sky, but with various techniques such as long exposures, processing and filters used to bring out more detail (click to view the 1085 x 2000 version):

Orion Constellation - Rogelio Bernal Andreo

Orion Constellation – Rogelio Bernal Andreo (DeepSkyColors.com)

Wow! That’s a little different! It’s the same area of the sky – look for Orion’s Belt – but with longer exposures and filters. Now you can see the huge clouds of hydrogen gas that are glowing red. See my “Why is the Orion Nebula Red?” post for more information on that.

Now let’s zoom into the fuzzy patch below Orion’s Belt. Here is a fantastic image by Tony Hallas. The image is of NGC1975 (at the top of the image) and the Sword of Orion – M42, the Orion Nebula (at the bottom of the image). They are huge regions in which new stars are forming. Note – you can match up the two bright stars just below the nebula in the image above with the two bright stars at the bottom of the image below (click to view the 1008 x 1440 version):

Orion Nebula - Tony Hallas

M42 & NGC1975 imaged by Tony Hallas (astrophoto.com). Used with permission.

Zooming into Orion’s Nebula from Hubble shows even more detail (click to view the 6000 x 6000 version):

Orion Nebula - Hubble 2006 Mosaic

One of the most detailed images produced using data from NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope. It took 105 Hubble orbits to gather the data. Credit: NASA, ESA, M. Robberto (STScI/ESA) and The Hubble Space Telescope Orion Treasury Project Team.

Another very distinctive feature in the Orion Constellation is the Horsehead Nebula. It is just below the left star in Orion’s Belt. It can be seen as a black dot with a red background in Rogelio Bernal Andreo’s Orion Constellation image above. Now let’s zoom into it – the (stunning) image below is turned about 90 degrees anti-clockwise to the images above (click to view the 3996 x 4063 version):

Horsehead Nebula

The Horsehead Nebula, a part of the optical nebula IC434 and also known as Barnard 33, was first recorded in 1888 on a photographic plate taken at the Harvard College Observatory. Credit: T.A.Rector (NOAO/AURA/NSF) and Hubble Heritage Team (STScI/AURA/NASA)

And we can keep zooming in! Here is the nebula imaged from the European Southern Observatory (click to see the 1600 x 1200 version):

The Horsehead Nebula

The Horsehead Nebula. Credit: ESO

Finally, this is my favourite image. It is another stunning image by Rogelio Bernal Andreo. I highly recommend you visit his website: DeepSkyColors.com. I think I’ll be using many more of his images for this Space Scenery series. The image below deservedly won the Astronomy Photographer of the Year 2010, Deep Sky prize, awarded by the Royal Observatory of Greenwich. You can see the diagonal of Orion’s Belt on the left, the Horsehead Nebula, NGC1975 and the Orion Nebula (click to view the beautiful 1900 × 927 version):

Orion Mosaic - Rogelio Bernal Andreo (DeepSkyColors.com)

Orion Mosaic – Rogelio Bernal Andreo (DeepSkyColors.com)

Update April 2013

I just had to update this post to include this brand new image. The Hubble team have just released a breathtaking image of the Horsehead Nebula. Click the image for the 2704 x 2826 version.

New infrared view of the Horsehead Nebula - Hubble’s 23rd anniversary image

New infrared view of the Horsehead Nebula – Hubble’s 23rd anniversary image.

Related posts

Space Scenery series.


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