The Orion Nebula, also known as Messier 42, is one of the most easily recognisable and best-studied celestial objects. It is a huge complex of gas and dust where massive stars are forming and is the closest such region to the Earth. The glowing gas is so bright that it can be seen with the unaided eye and is a fascinating sight through a telescope. Despite its familiarity and closeness there is still much to learn about this stellar nursery. It was only in 2007, for instance, that the nebula was shown to be closer to us than previously thought: 1350 light-years, rather than about 1500 light-years.
The Nebula is in fact part of a much larger nebula that is known as the Orion Molecular Cloud Complex. The Orion Molecular Cloud Complex extends throughout the constellation of Orion and includes Barnard’s Loop, the Horsehead Nebula, M43, M78 and the Flame Nebula. Stars are forming throughout the Orion Nebula, and due to this heat-intensive process the region is particularly prominent in the infrared.
The nebula is visible with the naked eye even from areas affected by some light pollution. It is seen as the middle “star” in the sword of Orion, which are the three stars located south of Orion’s Belt. The star appears fuzzy to sharp-eyed observers, and the nebulosity is obvious through binoculars or a small telescope.
The Earth could have a second sun lighting up the sky, if only for a matter of weeks, should the infamous red super-giant star Betelgeuse in Orion’s nebula explode.Dr Brad Carter, Senior Lecturer of Physics at the University of Southern Queensland said Betelgeuse, the second biggest star in the universe, is losing mass, a typical indication that a gravitation collapse is occurring, and when that happens, we’ll get our second sun.
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