One of the brightest and most recognisable objects in the night sky, the Orion Nebula is a favourite of stargazers the world around!

The Nebula


At approximately 1,350 light years away from the Earth, the Orion nebula is the closest region of star formation to the earth. The nebula itself is a large structure of dust and gas, the leftovers from a supernova explosion many millions of years in the past, which stretches up to 12 light years wide! When imaged through telescopes the colourful sweeping vistas of the nebula can truly be appreciated. The iconic colours of the nebula can be attributed to chemicals within the dust clouds, such as red for Hydrogen-α and blue of Oxygen III.

The Orion nebula and surrounding regions imaged through a telescope

History of Observing

The Orion nebula is so bright that it can be seen without the assistance of a telescope! In fact, Ancient Mayans may have been describing the Orion Nebula when referencing the ‘cosmic fire of creation’ within their Three Hearthstones creation myth. The Orion nebula was first observed through a telescope in November 1610 by French astronomer Nicolas-Claude Fabri de Peiresc. Famously, the Orion nebula was observed and sketched by Charles Messier in his hunt for a comet, leading to it being added to his catalogue of bright fuzzy objects (Learn more about Messier’s Catalogue here).Even today Orion is still regularly observed by astronomers, astrophotographers and stargazers alike, quite possibly making it the most observed celestial object.

Charles Messier's sketch of the Orion nebula in his 1771 memoir

Star Factory


Even through an amateur telescope the Orion nebula appears to be a stationary, idle region of the cosmos. With the assistance of ground based research telescopes and space telescopes, this is revealed to be far from the truth. In depth studies of the clouds of the Orion nebula have revealed regions of active star formation, with over 700 stars in the process of formation observed at the time of writing. Observations made by the Hubble Space Telescope have revealed at least 150 protoplanetary disks around these baby stars, the building blocks of entire Solar Systems. 

Edge on view of a protoplanetary disk around a star in the Orion nebula. Source: Mark McCaughrean (Max-Planck-Institute for Astronomy), C. Robert O'Dell (Rice University) and NASA

How do I see the Orion Nebula?


So how do you find the Orion Nebula to take a look for yourself? Take a look at our latest list, and find out where this cosmic gem is hidden!

Riley Johnston

Riley is an experienced astronomy guide who has been working within the astronomy community for several years. He is incredibly passionate about the night sky and holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Science, Math and Education.

Riley Johnston


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