You look like the type of smart individual who likes to read about space clouds. Did you know it’s possible to see the Orion Nebula with nothin’ but those squishy orbs inside your face? The universe looks like an angry toddler tossed a handful of sparkly glitter all over the place, which means it can be a pain in the ass to navigate the night sky.
Don’t be intimated by the sparkly mess above your head.
M42 (Orion Nebula) is one of the most popular space clouds. Period. Everyone knows about M42, right? Sure. Yup. Perhaps they know a little something about the Orion Nebula, but how many people know how to locate this particular emission nebula? It’s one thing to read about the Orion Nebula while you’re snuggled up next to a cozy fireplace, but it’s quite another thing to physically see the space cloud with those squishy orbs inside your face (eyes).
- Orion is a winter constellation
- For best results: observe under a dark sky
- Wait until your eyes adapted to the dark (25-30 minutes)
1. Orion is visible all night during the winter season (northern observers), but the constellation is also visible throughout the entire world.
2. Deep sky astronomical objects are easily obscured by light pollution. If you reside in a city, then the Orion Nebula may not be visible.
3. Our eyes require time to completely adapt to the dark. Don’t expect to observe the Orion Nebula after you binge watched your favorite television program. Wait about 25 minutes before attempting to hunt down the Orion Nebula. Try not to look at bright lights or pretty street lamps.
Are you sweating? Don’t worry! The Orion Nebula is one of the easiest objects to locate.
You can soon impress everyone with your special astronomical knowledge during a cocktail party, or perhaps seduce a potential lover. You can do all of that and don’t even need to know the name of a single star! Feel free to study the map above this paragraph. M42 is aligned with the middle star in Orion’s Belt.
Every warrior carries a sword, and Orion is not afraid to dangle his blade. M42 is technically located within Orion’s Sword.
4. Locate Orion’s Belt
4. Orion’s Belt is a prominent asterisk which consists of 3 bright stars. The stellar studded belt will provide you with a convenient starting point. Locate Orion’s Belt before attempting to hunt for the Orion Nebula. Orion’s Belt commands visual respect. Anyone can go outside and locate Orion’s Belt. Maps are not required to find this particular deep sky object, but they will help provide contextual relationships between stars and other unrelated objects.
The Orion Nebula is located below Orion’s Belt (use the middle star as your guide). Simple as that. If you’re observing under a somewhat dark sky, and if your eyes are adapted to the dark, then you should see a ghostly smudge of light. Congratulations! You found Orion’s Nebula! Pat yourself on the back.
It’s that simple.
Don’t worry about bustin’ out a sextant! You’ll be okay. Don’t worry about the names of stars, either. No need to get fancy. Many deep sky objects require sophisticated methods of navigation to be observed, but the Orion Nebula is difficult to miss. The visible portion of M42 is illuminated by the Trapezium Cluster, which can be seen through a small telescope.
The Orion Nebula is bright enough to casually photograph.
If you own a camera and a simple tripod, then blastoff some exposures. Pick a lens. Don’t be shy. A telescope is not required to photographed M42. Interested in photographing stars? Click this magical link!
Hey! Exhume that old binocular from your closet, and then aim it at the Orion Nebula. The ghostly smudge of light may transform into a perceptible shape, but the image quality will depend on the binocular’s stats (type, size, glass quality). A small binocular will still reveal some detail, though. Never judge a binocular by its size! It’s…ummm…how you use it…right?
** Basic DSLR Astro Imaging Tips **
- Set the widest available aperture
- Magnify image before focusing! (as much as possible)
- Use a remote, or set camera’s timer
- Consider locking the mirror (mirror lockup)
- Consider investing in a solid tripod, or mount
- Photograph the night sky from a dark location
The Orion Nebula is the cosmic gift that keeps on giving. Experienced observers can explore the subtle details of M42, or the popular space cloud can be used to practice your observation/photographic skills.
Way to go! You hunted the greatest hunter the universe has to offer—Orion. The wintry constellation has plenty of territory to explore, but we’ll wait until tomorrow night.