What Is the Orion Nebula and What Should You Look For?
The Orion Nebula is a region of gas and dust where stars are being born. It’s found in the sword of Orion. You can find it by looking for these three stars, or a line made by a fist at arms length.
The visible colors are pink, red, purple and blue-grey. You will need a telescope or binoculars to see them all though. The pink is usually the most dominant color that you can see with your naked eye.
For all intents and purposes, the Orion Nebula can be thought of as an incubator. Billions of years ago this area of space was nothing but a big cloud of dust and gases that were on the verge of collapsing in on themselves because of gravity. Over time, the bits and pieces of matter began sticking together until there were enough stellar bodies to begin the process of fusion.
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This area is now home to young stars and protostars which still have a ways to go before they become actual stars. The view is spectacular because you can see all these colors and learn how this new batch of shining bodies came into existence.
The Orion Nebula spans 24 light years across and is just 1,500 light years away. It is the closest to earth that you will find a stellar nursery. You can even see the nebula with the naked eye on a clear night, just look for Orion and find this magnificent display of colors and light with either binoculars or a telescope. It’s believed that this nebula is 25 to 30 trillion miles wide. That’s 100,000 times the size of our solar system!
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What Is Its Significance to Astronomy?
The Orion Nebula is one of the most important objects in astronomy. It was discovered by Christiaan Huygens in 1656. He came to the conclusion that this was a true nebula by counting the stars that he could see in it.
At first, some people believed that Huygens had actually seen another galaxy—a large one at that. Yet, what Huygens had really done was to show us how nebulas are formed which made it possible for modern scientists to understand how our own sun and solar system came about on a much larger scale.
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It has a greenish tint and at first glance, it’s easy to see how Huygens could mistake this for another galaxy. The Orion Nebula is considered our best example of what happens when you have a bunch of gas and dust and gravity starts to pull it all together. Gravity is the reason why we have stars in the universe instead of just planets zooming around in space with no gravitational force pulling them together.
Stars are nothing more than huge balls of gas that are fusing materials at their core which releases heat, light and other forms of radiation. There are countless stars in the universe and we can only see a small fraction of them. The Orion Nebula is where most stars begin their journey into space, and that’s why it holds such an important position for astronomers.
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How Can You See Orion’s Nebula
The best way to hunt for Orion’s Nebula is by looking between the hours of 9 P.M. and midnight every winter (fall in southern hemisphere). The constellation Orion will be rising at this time. You should also try to avoid city lights as much as possible because they can interfere with your view of the nebula’s colors.
Remember that our eyes take time to adjust to low light conditions so avoid looking at bright lights (even if they are red) because it will confuse your pupils and make it harder for you to see the colors properly.
To our naked eyes, M42 will look like a fuzzy star. But with binoculars and telescopes it can be seen in its glory. It’s definitely worth the trip because you will get to see all four of the Orion Nebula’s colors and most importantly, how they came about after countless years of stellar activity!