Plus Reflection Nebulae NGC 2067, NGC 2064, and McNeil's Nebula
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Pierre Mechain discovered M-78 in early 1780. It, like M-42, is really a brighter portion of the extensive nebulosity involving much of the constellation of Orion. In 1919 V. M. Slipher photographed the spectra of the nebulae in Orion and discovered that while the spectra of M-42 exhibited bright emission lines, the spectra of M-78 had dark lines very similar to a B-type star. He concluded that while M-42 was a self-glowing gas cloud, M-78 was lit by the reflected light of the several bright B-type stars. We now know that M-78, like M-42, is a site of new star formation. There are at least 45 proto-stars involved. However, the gas in M-78 is not excited to glow because there are no bright hot stars directly adjacent to it. The B-type stars that provide the light are at least several hundred light years closer to us than M-78.
P. Mechain: (1780) 'On the right side of Orion; 2'-3' diameter. One can see two fairly bright nuclei, surrounded by nebulosity.'
Messier: (Dec. 17th, 1780) 'A cluster of stars with much nebulosity in Orion and on the same parallel as the star delta in the belt which was used to determine its position; the cluster is 3° 41' east of the star and 27' 7" North. .... Diam. 3'.'
K.G. Jones: 'M 78 is remarkably bright and glowing and the two bright nuclei it contains are immediately visible, lying Northeast to Southwest. The nebula exhibits a clear-cut, semi-circular outline on the NW side, while to the SE it spreads fan-wise and becomes gradually more diffuse. This gives it a very distinctive, comet-like appearance.'
Bright, large, wisp, gradually much brighter nucleus, 3 stars involved, resolvable, but mottled.
In January 2004 Amateur Astronomer J. McNeil, working in his backyard, discovered a new nebula in the M-78 area that is appears to result from a newly forming protostar. This new nebula is at the bottom of our image. To learn more about McNeal's Nebula, click here.
NGC 2067 & NGC 2064, Reflection Nebulae:
This faint reflection nebula is separated from the main body of M-78 by a dark dust lane. There is additional dark nebula on the other side. This reflection nebula appears to be reflecting light from the same B-type giant stars as M-78 itself. Other reflection nebulae in the area include NGC 2064 in the middle of our picture and the large but dim NGC 2071 that lies just off the top of the image.