Diffuse Nebula
5H 35.4m  -5° 23'

Magnitude: 4
Size: 66' × 60'
Distance: 1,600 light-years


Suitable for beginners

Skill Level
The Orion Nebula is arguably the best target for beginners, but there is lots here for intermediate and advanced astrophotographers too.

JanuaryBest Month
Orion and M42 are best seen in winter. January is a great time to capture this beautiful target.


Recommended Equipment
M42 is interesting at almost all image scales. If you have a widefield refractor, you can image the whole nebula and perhaps even include surrounding targets such as NGC 1977 (the Running Man Nebula) and NGC 1980.

A short focal length Newtonians (such as the SN8) will capture more detail, but you will probably need to do a mosaic (or use a large format camera).

SCTs should use a focal reducer or alternatively, concentrate on imagine the Trapezium.


Image Stats
Meade 8" SN LXD75
Meade DSI Pro II
Meade RGB filters

3 × 1 RGB mosaic (Approximately 10 minutes per channel)

Below average transparency; near Full Moon
22-23 November 2007
Cambridge, MA

See Also
M42 (December 2004)

The Great Orion Nebula (designated M42 by Charles Messier) is the largest and brightest nebula in the Northern hemisphere and one of the easiest objects to capture.

Capturing M42

Finding M42 is a breeze. Just aim for the fuzzy patch of light in the sword of Orion. But capturing the great nebula can be difficult depending on your equipment. The Orion Nebula is so big (larger than the full moon) that you may have problems fitting the whole thing in your field of view. You can always shoot a partial view. As long as you can fit the "head" of the nebula (actually designated M43) and some of the two wings, then you should end up with an iconic shot.

For the shot on this page I combined three separate images into a mosaic.

Processing the Image

The great dynamic range of M42 calls for layer masks. Use the Curves command in Photoshop to brighten the faint outer nebulosity, but use a layer mask so that the central part of the nebula is not blown out.