M42 – The Orion Nebula

The orion nebula is a diffuse nebula just south of Orion’s belt hidden in the three stars that represent his sword. The middle star of the sword is a whole lot more than the single star you see with your unaided eye, it actually consists of many stars being born within the nebula. The orion nebula is the closest massive star forming region to Earth. M42 is estimated to be 24 light years across and estimated to be roughly 1344 light years to Earth. This nebula is one of the most studied nebula for astronomers who have directly observed protoplanetary disks, brown dwarfs, turbulent motions of gas, and photo-ionizing effects of large nearby stars to the nebula. This nebula being so large can be seen with the unaided eye from non light polluted skies and given it’s large size wasn’t technically discovered by Charles Messier, but he included it in his list of objects as M42.

X Marks the spot of M42

X Marks the spot of M42

This nebula has many faint regions, but the section containing the trapezium is definitely visible through my 6” scope with a 30mm eyepiece. The trapezium is visible with it, but takes a strong power to split them nicely, I find the 4mm to do a pretty good job at it.

M42 02-09-13

This image is constructed of 41 light frames, 20 at 30 seconds, and 21 at 60 seconds both shot with an ISO of 400. Also included is 30 dark frames, 25 flat frames, and 34 bias frames. Stacked in Deep Sky Stacker and post processing done in Photoshop.

Omni XLT 150 with CG-4 mount
Canon 350D
T-ring and adapter
Polar Scope for alignment

February 19, 2012 Viewing Session – M42, M43 and M44

Two nights in a row of clear skies, so I had to take advantage. I did some more sketches, but this time after sketching I took them into Gimp to edit them, and get rid of the paper texture I got when scanning. The temperature was warm for this time of year around 29°F, so I was sketching without gloves on to get in the way.

First target of the night was the Orion Nebula, M42, and the neighboring nebula, M43. These two nebula can be found in the sword of Orion just below Orion’s belt. The middle star in the sword is not just a star, but it is what you see in this sketch. A stellar nursery where new stars are being formed. On a clear night in a dark sky area you can see a slight haze around this central star of Orion’s sword, that is the nebula you are seeing with your unaided eye. This nebula is quite close astronomically speaking at a distance of 1,344 +/- 20 light-years away, and is roughly 24 light-years across. 
M42 and M43 Two Nebula in Orion. Click to enlarge.
The next target of the night was an open cluster in the constellation of Cancer. This open cluster is M44 with the common names of the Beehive Cluster, or Praesepe (Latin for Manger). This cluster is one of the closest star clusters to our solar system at a distance of 520-610 light-years away. The stars of Cancer are quite dim and hard to spot in my light polluted skies, but I was just able to make out a slight haze where this cluster is located, which makes it another object you can see with the naked eye. Although it may be harder to find in light polluted skies, but if you’re skies are dark enough you’ll find it no problem.
M44 Open Cluster in Cancer. Click to 

December 27, 2011 Viewing Session – M42 (Orion Nebula)

The day was clear, the sun was shining, and I was expecting to get a good view of the 2 day old crescent moon 7° from Venus in the western sky after sunset. That was destroyed by a thick layer of clouds that rolled in about 30 minutes before sunrise. After that I figured the sky was going to be cloudy all night. Around 9pm I let the dog out and I decided to have a look up, and the sky was clear. After letting the dog in I took the Astromaster 114EQ out with hopes of getting a few images that I could stack and make into a pretty image to share here. I had some luck, but need to fine tune and learn some adjustments to be made.
The Orion Nebula is a diffuse nebula just below (south) Orion’s Belt, and is also visible to the naked eye granted you have clear skies, and minimal light pollution. To find the M42, first find Orion’s Belt, look below it for the three fainter stars almost perpendicular to the belt. The middle of the three stars is where the nebula can be found. With the unaided eye you may notice that this middle star is a bit fuzzy, and that’s because of the nebula. Aim a pair of binoculars or a telescope at this and you will be amazed with how much of the nebula is visible.
At a distance of 1,344 light-years away this nebula shines quite bright through a telescope and handles magnification quite well. Although this is all that I was able to see through my telescope, this nebula is part of a much larger nebula within Orion known as the Orion Molecular Cloud Complex. Inside M42 there is quite a young cluster of stars known as the Trapezium. Through my telescope the Trapezium is just visible with the 32mm eyepiece and I can resolve 3 of the stars. I didn’t get the chance to magnify it anymore than that, but those three stars in the Trapezium turn into a total of six with good transparency and higher magnification.
This is a single image of M42 I took showing the Trapezium. Click to Enlarge.
Through the 32mm eyepiece M42 looks a lot like it does in my picture below. The image below was created with about 30 images stacked in Deep Sky Stacker at 3.2seconds F6.3 ISO400. Strapped the camera to the eyepiece set up a timer and let the pictures begin.
 Click to Enlarge
This second image was about a total of 70 images stacked, 30 of the images were the images used in the picture above, and the rest were taken at about 6seconds F4.5 ISO400. The central region of the nebula is a bit overexposed, but you can really start to see the shape of the nebula in this image. Hopefully I have clear skies soon, and will be able to spend more than just an hour with this nebula. By the time I had captured all these images a thin layer of clouds started rolling in.
 Click to Enlarge
Although the central area is overexposed I am still quite happy with the results I’m achieving with the setup I have. I finally have the tracking of the sky down to a point where I can take up to 15 second exposures and still have a decent enough picture to stack within Deep Sky Stacker, which is quite picky when it comes to even the slightest star trail. Now I just need to work on less exposure with a ton more images taken, or I need to screw around with some other settings.

EDIT: I have taken the two images and masked them in Gimp to come up with a much better image of the nebula. You can really make out the stars in the center of the nebula a bit more, and the central core of the nebula isn’t as overexposed.

Click to Enlarge

Sharing The Sky

Last night I spent a few hours showing my girlfriend’s daughter Stellarium and a couple of astronomy books I have. I also explained to her what Nebula, open star clusters, and globular clusters were. I also informed her that Sirius is pronounced like Sirius from Harry Potter and that the star Sirius is actually a double star. I then proceeded to search for pictures of it to show her how tiny the second star is and why you can’t see it through the telescope. I quickly went over how to use the Planisphere I have and showed her the larger star chart I have also. Luckily these things come pretty cheep since I’m a bit broke, you can also find these things for free online if you wish to. Here is a link to a free print out of a Planisphere , and here is a link to a free star chart.

I put the telescope out last night around 19:00 to let it cool down; the temperature was about 12°F so it needed a while to cool down. The skies were a bit cloudy, but within 45 minutes it was extraordinarily clear. Stars were very sharp pin pricks in the sky, no blurs and nebula’s and galaxies were as visible as I’ve ever seen them since I got my scope. I was pretty happy that I was going to introduce her to some objects in the sky.

None of what I viewed was new to me, but since I knew right where everything was up in the sky I went out and started aiming at targets and calling her over to look through the eyepiece. I had shown her what we were going to look at using Stellarium, but I had to warn her that nebula and galaxies weren’t going to be as bright and colorful as they appear on there. Didn’t want to give her a false impression of what she was going to view through the telescope. Just to be quick here is the list of what we viewed, we must have spent around 30-40 minutes total viewing all these objects.

  • Pleiades M45
  • Open Cluster M41
  • Double Cluster NGC 884 and 869
  • Orion Nebula M42
  • Bode’s Galaxy M81 and M82
  • Sirius

She really seems to be enjoying looking at it and what I’ve taught her so far, she’s even been reading, or more like skimming and viewing the pretty pictures, through two of the books I have. Looks like I have created a little monster. I better get to researching and learning more before I run out of stuff to teach her. I figured she would enjoy it at her age, I know I wish I had a telescope when I was that young, but either way I love the fact that I have one now.

Best Night Of Viewing Yet

There I am with my winter hat on, my eye-patch (to adjust my “night vision” for viewing), my two jackets, my red light head lamp (doesn’t ruin your night vision when used in the dark) and my mittens that fold back to allow me to use my fingers.

Last night I got a good view of some clusters, Messier-41 (I will shorten the name Messier to just ‘M’ so be warned) and NGC 884/869 (double cluster), I also got a good view of the Orion Nebula which is almost a must for me to look at EVERY night. A little bit of Pleiades, and a quick attempt at Saturn. I was all over the place last night!
I shoveled off my back deck the other night and it’s uneven so polar aligning is a bit of a pain, plus I don’t have a level which I though I had laying around somewhere. So tonight was just a cruising night, point in a direction and hope to get it in sight. Thankfully I’ve been spending a lot of time gazing at Stellarium wishing I could see something when I stepped outside. Finally between last night and the night before I’ve had some pretty good sights of things that just make me want to view more. I spent a good hour and a half to two hours viewing all of these with the occasional break to go inside and warm up a little. With the past weeks deep freeze temperatures of -10°F and lower, this weeks 15°F feel nice and warm and I was barely even shivering. Which is great because it makes focusing a lot easier with less shaking of the scope. Ended up with beautiful crystal clear views of all the clusters and nebula I happened to point at.
First view was M41 because the small window of view I have north was a bit cloudy. Looking at M41 I was thinking to myself it’s such a great sight seeing a cluster of stars all together in the scope, then you look away from the scope in the direction of the cluster and you see absolutely nothing there. Then you look back through the telescope and it’s staring you right in the face. Using my 32mm eyepiece (allowing for a 31x magnification with my scope) the stars were a little faint but I had the whole cluster in my view. I then put my 12.5mm eyepiece (allowing for 80x magnification) in to get a closer look. I could make out the stars a bit better but I didn’t have as much in my view. I’m learning pretty quickly that my 32mm EP is going to be my best friend. I also gave my 2x Barlow (which multiplies the magnification by 2) a shot with the 32mm (making it a 16mm), the view with that was just about perfect. So many stars, I don’t bother trying to count them, you’d get lost, and be there forever!
Image From The Big Foto
Next while I was over at M41 I swung to the west a bit and aimed at the Orion Nebula (M42). Basically with the 32mm it was just a little smudge in the eyepiece so I put the 2x Barlow in and it magnified it nicely. I probably could have put the 12.5 or the 6 in and gotten a better view, but without being polar aligned I don’t want to get too close as it’s a pain to keep it in view. So I settled with what I had.
Image From Nick Howes
Before going towards the Double Cluster I stopped at Pleiades (The Seven Sisters), which I’ve seen a few times but I couldn’t help but stop. Lovely group of stars. I have always wondered what that was in the night sky. It’s always captured my eyes when just looking up, and seeing it up close and personal like I’m flying towards it is amazing.
M45 - The Seven Sisters
Image From Nick Howes
Then to the North-West to view NGC 884/869 (Double Cluster). 32mm Eyepiece aimed at the double cluster was jaw dropping to me. So many stars in such a small space. I can’t see it with the naked eye with all the light pollution. By the way I live in an orange zone, just outside of a yellow zone (check this link to see what the light pollution colors mean, basically I have pretty high light pollution, would kill for a blue or even green area). I must have looked at the double cluster the longest. Again I attached the 2x Barlow to the 32mm and looked at the double cluster. Doing that made it hard to have both in my field of view but I got more stars out of zooming in that much, so it wasn’t a complete waste.
Image From Nick Howes
I attempted for Saturn but all I’ve been getting last night and the night before is a glowing yellow dot, no sign of rings around it. Figured I’d get something ring like or even look like ears with my 12.5mm EP but I didn’t; Especially after reading about Galileo’s viewing of Saturn with his less powerful scope. I never even thought to try the 12.5 with the Barlow while I was out there, since I’m not getting clear views with the 6mm and didn’t even try the 4mm. Could also just be bad seeing conditions or clouds since there are a few scattered throughout the sky. Also maybe it’s just not high enough in the sky? Can’t wait until Saturn is in our evening skies instead of really early morning skies. After doing some looking around online and with Stellarium I have realized that apparently what I was looking at wasn’t Saturn at all, it was Arcturus a bright giant orange star in the constellation Boötes. WHOOPS!
All in all this was probably my best and most succesful night of viewing I’ve had since I got this telescope. I must also say that I’m now completely addicted and don’t know what I’m going to do with myself the next couple of night because they’re supposed to be cloudy. You think if I aim a fan into the sky it’ll blow the clouds away? hahah
All the images above are from other sources, that I linked to. The views through my scope are amazing, and maybe some time when I get a camera mount I will be able to share better with my own images. The Orion Nebula (M42) always looks more fantastic when photographed than it does through a scope. Images are just to show you what I’m looking at so it’s more than just words.