Orion Molecular Cloud Complex

The Orion Molecular Cloud Complex is an enormous cloud of interstellar gas and dust within the Milky Way Galaxy. A major component of this cloud is seen here in the southern half of the constellation Orion. At the top of this image, the three bright stars Alnitak (Zeta Orionis), Alnilam (Epsilon Orionis) and Mintaka (Delta Orionis) form the Belt of Orion. Extending below Alnitak is the red glow of the emission nebula containing the Horsehead Nebula. Near the bottom of the image is the Great Orion Nebula composed of M42 and M43.

The Orion Molecular Cloud Complex is about 1600 light years distant and several hundred light years in extent. It is a region of active star formation where some of the hotest and brightest stars are coalescing. The red glow visible in these clouds is characteristic of ionized hydrogen as it recombines with lost electrons.

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