M 42 - The Orion Nebula

Photos by Pittendreigh


This is an easy one. Find it by locating the constellation Orion. Find the belt, then the sword. Focus your telescope on the sword. On a good night, you will be able to see hints of the nebula with the unaided eye.


The nebula is bright and easy to see. It will probably be so large that you will not be able to see it in its entirety in you telescope's lowest power setting. Focus in on the edge and let the earth's motion move the view into your telescope. Using this "drift method," you will be able to pick out a great amount of detail.

Look for the different shades of color, which will be mostly a green color. I have read that green will be the only color you will be able to see. Fred Schaff, in his book SEEING THE DEEP SKY, refutes this by claiming that red and purple become visible with a 10-inch, or an 8-inch with the trained eye. I agree. When I was 13, I bought an 8 inch reflector. The first object I saw was M42, and it clearly had hints of red and purple. I have a very clear memory of that night, and a written record as well. At the time, we were living on top of a mountain in Northeast Georgia. A short time later, we were in the foothill country of South Carolina, and I could no longer see any color but green.

By habit, if I go outside on a winter's night, the first thing I look at is Orion's Nebula. It will also be the last thing I look at when I'm ready to finish my night's observing. It is wonderful to notice the difference dark adaptation makes in what can be seen in this nebula. Find M43 by sweeping this area. Actually, this nebula is part of M42, but seems separated by a small gulf of space. This apparent gulf is caused by dark matter blocking the light of the nebula. Look also for the Trapezium, a set of four stars within the nebula.

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