M42 – The Gorgeous Orion Nebula
Located below Orion’s Belt, the Orion Nebula is now gracing our skies each night
The skies were clear in Niagara last weekend, so I set up my telescope for a night of astrophotography imaging. There are so many great imaging options at this time of year. The Pleiades, the Pacman Nebula, the Andromeda Galaxy, the Triangulum Galaxy and the Dumbbell Nebula are all on display right now, to name a few.
I settled on the Orion Nebula because it’s an “all-nighter” object from my backyard viewing area. I set my trusty Canon 450D to capture 60 three minute exposures while I slept. The focusing, framing and camera control was all accomplished with my new favorite piece of astronomy software, Backyard EOS.
I find that I am able to achieve an extra tight focus on this deep-sky object because of the 4 stars (Trapezium) located within the Orion Nebula. They seem to be the perfect size for my cameras live-view preview screen at 10 X view. I may use this “focus-test” for imaging nearby objects in Orion such as the Rosette Nebula and M78. I’ll calibrate the mount, hop over to M42 for a tight focus, and then frame the new object up afterward.
I decided to include the Running Man Nebula (NGC 1973, NGC 1975 and NGC 1977) because I feel that it completes the image and fits so nicely in my field of view. A larger telescope would be more suited for an isolated shot of Messier 42 on its own.
M42, NGC 1973, NGC 1975, NGC 1977
50 x 3 min frames @ ISO 800
Total Exposure Time = 2 Hours, 30 Minutes
20 Dark Frames Subtracted
Canon Xsi Camera through 80mm APO Refractor
How to find M42 – The Orion Nebula
If you want to locate this glorious nebula, you will first have to locate the Orion constellation in the night sky. It is very easy to spot, if you’re looking at the right time of year. The winter months in The Northern Hemisphere are the perfect time to get familiarized with this exquisite creation of the Heavens. The constellation is unmistakable once after you spot the three medium-bright stars in a short, straight row that make up Orion’s Belt.
The Orion Nebula is perhaps the best deep-sky target for a beginner. Here are some general tips for getting started in astrophotography:
Under dark skies, you should be able to find the Orion Nebula quite easily below Orion’s Belt. A careful observation with the naked eye will reveal a curved line of stars “hanging” from the three stars of Orion’s Belt. This collection of stars represents Orion’s Sword. Look for Orion Nebula (also known as M42) about midway down the Sword of Orion. Your eyes will see it as a small, hazy white spot. A long-exposure photograph like the one above brings out substantially more detail than can be observed with the naked eye.
Observing the Orion Constellation this Winter
M42 is a wondrous sight through a pair of binoculars. Start by locating the three stars in Orion’s Belt, and move downward towards Orion’s sword. You will know when you have found the Orion Nebula because it is one of the most rewarding celestial treasures one can observe.
This enormous cloud of gas and dust lies approximately 1,300 light-years from Earth. This giant nebulous cocoon is giving birth to an estimated 1000 stars. The four brightest stars located within the open star cluster included in the nebula, are known as the Trapezium and can be distinguished when looking through a backyard telescope.
The Orion Nebula imaged through a Meade 70mm APO telescope.
I plan on observing and imaging this brilliant winter constellation over the next few months. I hope I have inspired you to get out with your binoculars or telescope and enjoy the beauty of the night sky with your family!