New view of Orion

Orion Nebula

A new image of the Orion Nebula, a huge gas cloud in which new stars are being born.

THIS ETHERAL-LOOKING IMAGE of the Orion Nebula was captured using the Wide Field Imager on the MPG/ESO 2.2-metre telescope at the European Southern Observatory’s (ESO) La Silla Observatory in Chile.

This nebula is much more than just a pretty face, offering astronomers a close-up view of a massive star-forming region to help advance our understanding of stellar birth and evolution.

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 the Orion Nebula. It was only in 2007, for instance, that it was shown to be closer to us than previously thought—1,350 light-years, rather than about 1,500 light-years.

See a wallpaper-size version of the image here.

ESO 2.2m telescope

The MPG/ESO 2.2-metre telescope

A winning image

The data used to produce the image were selected by Igor Chekalin from Russia, who participated in ESO’s Hidden Treasures 2010 astrophotography competition.

Igor’s composition of the Orion Nebula was the seventh highest ranked entry in the competition, although another of Igor’s images was the eventual overall winner.

The Hidden Treasures competition gave amateur astronomers the opportunity to search through ESO’s vast archives of astronomical data, hoping to find a well-hidden gem that needed “polishing”.

Participants submitted nearly 100 entries and ten skilled people were awarded some extremely attractive prizes, including an all-expenses-paid trip for the overall winner to ESO’s Very Large Telescope (VLT) on Cerro Paranal in Chile.

Igor searched through ESO’s archive and identified datasets that he used to compose the image of Messier 42.

He also was awarded the first prize of the competition for his composition of Messier 78, and he also submitted an image of NGC3169, NGC3166 and SN 2003cg, which was ranked second highest.

Igor’s Orion Nebula image is a composite of several exposures taken through a total of five different filters. Light that passed through a red filter as well as light from a filter that shows the glowing hydrogen gas, were coloured red. Light in the yellow–green part of the spectrum is coloured green, blue light is coloured blue and light that passed through an ultraviolet filter has been coloured purple. The exposure times were about 52 minutes through each filter.

Adapted from information issued by ESO and Igor Chekalin.

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