NASA has revealed breathtaking pictures of the constellation Orion, showing what it looks like in space. "The constellation of Orion is more than three stars in a row", wrote astronomer Judy Schmidt in Astronomy Picture of the Day by NASA. The mentioned three stars comprise the central part of Orion, which is known as Orion’s Belt. Thanks to these, stargazers can easily find the constellation in the night sky.
However, there are many more interesting astronomical objects that can’t be observed with the naked eye located in this area of space, which is rich with impressive nebulas.
One of them is Barnard’s Loop, the large red arc in the middle of the constellation. Since it is too faint, the nebula was discovered only in 1895 by astronomer E.E. Barnard using long duration film exposures. Its origin remains unknown, but scientists speculate that it may be a supernova remnant that emerged around three million years ago.
Another prominent, yet little known, nebula is Lambda Orionis, the giant red object near the top of the image. It is home to the blue giant after which the nebula got its name. The star ionises the surrounding material, making it glow.
Lambda Orionis is sometimes confused with the Rosetta Nebula, which can also be seen in the picture: it is the red and white region on the upper left. A survey by the Chandra X-ray Observatory has revealed that it is an active area where new stars are being born. The young stars are responsible for blowing the ionised nebula bubble.
The bright orange star just above the frame centre is Betelgeuse, a 40,000 year-old red supergiant. Quite recently it dimmed, so scientists have started to speculate that it might soon explode into a supernova. However, the latest observations have shown that an explosion is more likely to happen in 100,000 years.
All of these objects are well-seen in the picture thanks to extremely long exposure. The photo required many clear nights in 2013 and 2014.
"After 212 hours of camera time and an additional year of processing, the featured 1400-exposure collage spanning over 40 times the angular diameter of the Moon emerged", wrote astronomer Judy Schmidt.