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Messier 78, NGC 2071 and NGC 2112

Short object description

The nebula was discovered around 1745 by the Swiss astronomer Jean-Philippe Loys de Chéseaux. The object lies in the constellation Orion and is about 1600 light years away from the solar system. M 78 was discovered by Pierre Mechain in March 1780.

While in emission nebulae gas clouds are stimulated to glow by ionization of high-energy stars, in reflection nebulae the gas masses reflect only the light of bright nearby stars. Messier 78 is one of the brightest reflection nebulae in the sky and can already be observed with smaller telescopes in dark surroundings.

The two bright stars HD 38563 A and HD 38563 B produce a major part of the light that illuminates the reflection nebulae. But the nebula is home to many more stars, including a collection of 45 low-mass young stars, so-called T Tauri stars, which are less than 10 million years old and hide behind the dust clouds.
« The picture on the left shows the core of Messier 78, taken with the MPG/ESO 2.2-meter telescope at the La Silla Observatory in Chile. Credit:

Our wide angle image shows, besides M78 on the left, a part of Barnard's Loop, an extensive, red glowing, H-II region. It is located about 1600 light years away from the solar system and thus about the same distance as Messier 78.

At about the same altitude as M78 (left in the image) is the open star cluster NGC 2112, about 2800 light-years away from the H-II region of Barnards Loop. It was discovered by William Herschel on 1 January 1786.

The two bright stars in the lower right of the image are Alnitak (left) and Alnila, two of the three belted stars of the constellation Orion. The nebular region left of Alnitak is NGC 2024, which is a mixture of emission, reflection and dark nebula and is also 1600 light years away. It was discovered on 1 January 1786 by Friedrich Wilhelm Herschel, the father of William Herschel.
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