What is the Orion Nebula?

We explain what the Orion Nebula is, some of its characteristics and how was its discovery of this nebula.

  1. What is the Orion Nebula?

It is known as the Orion Nebula, also called Messier 42, M42 or NGC-1976, one of the brightest nebulae that exist in the sky observable from Earth, located just in the constellation Orion, about 1270 to 1276 years Light of our planet . It has a diameter of 24 light years and is one of the most studied and photographed astronomical objects of all time, visible to the naked eye in some regions of the planet.

It should be clarified that a nebula is a region of space in which large masses of gas (hydrogen and helium, mostly) agglutinate together with other chemical elements that make up the cosmic dust. In many cases, these nebulas are the birthplace of the stars , due to the effects of condensation and gravitational attraction. But they can also be remnants of extinct stars.

The Orion Nebula is part of a huge gaseous cloud located in the heart of the constellation of the same name, and that also feeds the Barnard loop, the Horsehead Nebula, the Mairan Nebula, the M78 Nebula and the Nebula of the Flame. In its bosom there is a high production of stars , so the dominant light spectrum is infrared, due to the caloric emission of said process. In addition, its shape is almost spherical, reaching a central density of almost double that in its periphery, and is composed of stellar clouds, star clusters, H II regions and reflection nebulae. At its peak, it reaches a maximum temperature of about 10,000 degrees Kelvin (K).

The name of the Orion Nebula comes from the constellation where it is located , inheritance in turn from Greek mythology . There were different versions of Orion’s life, a great hunter mentioned in Homer’s Odyssey, and to which various mythical feats are attributed, as well as his death before a gigantic scorpion (immortalized, in turn, in the constellation of scorpio).

  1. Discovery of the Orion Nebula

According to many sources, the ancient Maya would have noticed the celestial region where this nebula is located , which they called Xibalbá. According to his imaginary, the gas cloud evidenced the presence of the furnaces themselves of creation.

The West discovered the Orion Nebula in 1610 and is attributed to the Frenchman Nicolas-Claude Fabri de Peiresc, as written by Cysatus de Lucerne, a Jesuit astronomer from 1618. Much later it would be included in the Astronomical Object Catalog of Charles Messier in 1771, corresponding to the name of M42.

Its hazy character would not be discovered until 1865 , thanks to the spectroscopy of William Huggins, and in 1880 his first astrophotography, work of Henry Draper, would be published. The first direct observation of the nebula was the product of the Hubble Space Telescope in 1993, thanks to which (and to its many subsequent observations) even three-dimensional models have been made later.

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