The photo above first appeared in my second ever blog post last March. The post was about a fruitless attempt to see the Northern Lights. The photo shows Venus(brightest object on the far right), Jupiter(just left of Venus), the constellation Taurus with the Pleiades star cluster(above the tree, at the top of the frame), and the constellation Orion to the left of the tree.
Orion, more specifically its naked eye nebula is where this post is headed. Orion the Hunter is known for the three belt stars Alnitak, Alnilam and Mintaka, which are almost of equal brightness and easily noticed with a casual glance skyward on a winter evening. The photo below has the constellation circled and a notation pointing to the center star in what is referred to as the three stars of the Sword of Orion which hangs below the three brighter stars of the Belt.
Although the Sword appears to be composed of 3 ordinary stars, the center star is actually a nebula. It is the nearest massive region of star formation to the Earth. It has a mass of about 2000 suns at a distance of roughly 1340 light years away. It's unconventional appearance can be detected with an ordinary pair of binoculars. Through a telescope it looks something like this
I took this photo today through my Celestron C-8 telescope from the light polluted skies of suburban Detroit. With a 0.6x focal reducer the exposure was 5.6 seconds, f/6.3, with a 1200mm focal length at ISO 8000. A longer exposure could have yielded more structure and color but moderate winds, scattered clouds and the aformentioned light pollution kept my times less than 10 seconds. At a distance of 1340 lightyears away it means the photons captured by my camera left the nebula back around the year 673.