Friday, 27 February 2009

The Classic DSO - M42

The Orion Nebula, Messier object designation M42 is one of the brightest nebulae in the sky, and under good conditions is visible even to the naked eye. It's the closest region of star formation to us at roughly 1500 lightyears distance and is an object of regular study due to playing host to stars in varying stages of stellar evolution, as well as what appear to be infant solar systems (or proplyds).

It's also a popular target for astrophotographers as it is very easy to locate, and because of the aforementioned inherent brightnes, which means that even short exposures will reveal colourful nebulosity. Thus it was one of the first things I took an image of after equipping for astrophotography, and after some experimentation out in the cold under dark skies the end result was the following:

Click on the above image to view a bigger version.

The picture was taken with an unguided William Optics Flt-98 refractor at prime focus using a Nikon D70 DSLR and is a stack of 40 minutes worth of 30s exposures taken at ISO1600. The frames were captured under a moonlit sky, so not ideal conditions admittedly, but it's always worth a try!

Unseen here in the overexposed core of the nebula is a very young open cluster known as the Trapezium because of the configuration of its four brightest stars. Above the main nebula can also be faintly seen NGC1973/5/7, The Running Man, which is a blue reflection nebula that is part of the same massive molecular cloud complex as M42.

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