The Orion Nebula

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The Orion Nebula is my absolute favorite deep sky object, and I'm not alone! The Orion Nebula is a giant molecular cloud that has birthed many stars, including the superbright ones in the "trapezium", the bright and badly overexposed region in the center of the nebula. The entire nebula shines because of the light emitted from the bright trapezium stars. One of the reasons this is such a favorite object is that it is clearly visible to the naked eye, and super-easy to find, forming the "sword" or the mighty Orion. If you can spot Orion's belt, you can see the Orion Nebula, and it's nice and fuzzy, as you would expect. Nebula means "cloud" in Latin, and the Orion Nebula really does look like a cloud, only one that is very, very far away.

Unlike the Pleiades, the Orion Nebula does not shine by reflecting starlight. Rather, the starlight is so intense that it excites the atoms in the cloud, which then emit their own light at characteristic frequencies or colors, much like neon lights in Las Vegas. This gives the Orion Nebula its rich colors, e.g., reds from Hydrogen gas, and greens from Oxygen.

One of the technical challenges in this image is balancing the delicate (and dim) features of the galactic disk, versus the much brighter trapezium stars. I chose a relatively long exposure to bring as much detail as I could in the nebula itself, at the cost of washing out the central region. There are ways to balance this better, but that requires taking different exposure times and carefully overlaying a short exposure of the center on top of a long exposure of the nebula. My astrophotography skills are not there yet. Even better results can be achieved by using very narrowband filters that catch only the specific light frequencies emitted by the different gases in the nebula. Maybe I'll try that someday, but those fancy filters are expensive, and they take very careful image processing!

I used a color camera to capture this image, instead of separate filters, because the field of view of my telescope with the filter wheel is just too small to do justice to this nice nebula!

The Orion Nebula