Orion B Molecular Cloud Complex at Alnitak
Finding the Horsehead Nebula
The eastern most of the three belt stars in Orion, Alnitak, shines brightly in the winter night
sky. The whole area around this stunning star is embedded in the Orion B Molecular
Cloud Complex. Alnitak and several of the brighter stars around it, fuel the faint
emission-light of parts-of-the-Cloud. The brightest and most easy to see is the Flame
Nebula with is fueled by the light of Alnitak. In the 6-inch refractor, I can make out the
Flame without resorting to nebula filters, even under suburban skies. But all other traces
of the Cloud Complex remain hidden from my house.
Armed with nebula filters (Oxygen-III, Hydrogen-Beta, and a Nebustar Type-2), and an
exceptionally clear night, the more hidden parts of the Cloud Complex around Alnitak
can be teased out.
With a nebula filter one can easily make out the two parts of the Flame Nebula. Also,
a few of the surrounding stars start to take on a hazy look, thus showing the nebula
The ultimate target, in this part of the sky, is to see the dark Horsehead Nebula
(Barnard 33). This dark nebula can only be seen because it is imbedded in the
elongated emission nebula IC 434. The Horsehead Nebula is a show piece for
astrophotographers, but a frustration to those that wish to see it visually. From my
suburban house it requires a Hydrogen-Beta Filter, a transparent night and patience at
the eyepiece. Even so, most attempts to find it from my backyard fail. This morning the
sky-gods were in my favor and I could detect the subtle thumb-like indentation in IC 434.
It may not look like much compared to one of the many photographs of the Horsehead
Nebula, but I was more than please with just what I could see.