Orion Nebula, bright diffuse nebula in the constellation Orion; also known as the Great Nebula of Orion and cataloged as M42 or NGC 1976. It is located near the middle of the "sword" hanging from Orion's "belt" of stars. Its central bright region is about 1° in diameter and it has a total extension of 3°. It is about 1,000 light-years distant and as many as 60 light-years in diameter. The nebula is an enormous cloud of gas surrounding a cluster of very hot young stars. To the naked eye the nebula appears to be a faint star but becomes a vague patch of light when viewed through binoculars. The bright region is divided into two sections, the northeast portion being cataloged separately as M43 or NGC 1982. The Orion Nebula is the nearest major site to earth of massive star formation.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.