This is a favorite target for astrophotographers. It’s a famous image, but quite challenging to capture, partly because it is only visible during the winter months when Orion the Hunter is up. The weather conditions will always be cold, at least in the northern latitudes, and so winter gear is required.
It is not easy to actually see this target. The nearby bright star, zeta Orionis, is a convenient marker, but its glare easily washes out the faint glow of the Horsehead and another nearby object just below zeta, the “Flame Nebula”.
This is a very large region of sky, but the beautiful red remnants of this supernova explosion are faint. One of the attractive features of the Rosette is the cluster of stars at its center. One of these may be the star that expoded eons ago leaving this signature shell of expanding and glowing gas.
On most winter nights, the distinctive constellation of Orion the Hunter is plainly visible in the southern sky. Orion sports a “belt” from which hangs a three-star “sword”. The Orion Nebula is the smudge of the middle star in Orion’s sword. A closer look at it reveals that it is not a star at all, but a group of stars shrouded in a cloud of dust and glowing gas. This is a stellar nursery where new stars are being formed. As the gas coalesces, it is energized and emits a characteristic red glow, not bright enough to be seen visually, but captured nicely on film.
In the constellation Cygnus, (the Swan) is a large complex of glowing gas nebulas, and this portion has a shape suggestive of a familiar continent. The strong red color is easily recorded on film, but large telescopes and special filters are needed to make it visible to human night vision. The bright star on the left, “62-Cygni (xi)”, dominates this picture, but if you were to look at the sky, it would not be particularly noticable among the dozen even brighter stars in this constellation!