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How to Find M42 The Great Orion Nebula in Your Telescope, Binoculars, or Camera


Image of M42 Orion Nebula while attending the Black Forest Star Party at Cherry Springs State Park, PA. Meade Series 6000 80mm Refractor and ZWO 1600MM Pro dedicated astronomy camera. Copywrite 2017 - David Farina

Have you ever wondered how to find M42, the Great Orion Nebula? In my Deep Sky with Dave Messier Marathon series, I will walk you through my four-step method for finding this amazing winter sky wonder in your telescope.


Want to watch a video instead of reading? Check out the video version of this article on my YouTube channel.



To find M42, first, you will need to have a basic understanding of the night sky. I suggest using tools such as the “Sky Safari” app on your cell phone or tablet. Sky Safari even allows for you to control your telescope using your phone or tablet. Check out my article on "Sky Safari 7

Telescope Control for iPhone and iPad" to learn how it works.

In today’s video will be using the “Starry Night 8 Pro” a desktop software to help guide you through finding this object. Starry Night also provides there “Live Sky” feature that provides you a link between your desktop software and your phone/tablet running Sky Safari, which makes planning a breeze.


M42, also known as NGC 1976, is a very bright magnitude 4 diffuse nebula located in the constellation of Orion. This brightness makes M42 one of the most easily accessible nebulae even from light-polluted skies. However, dark sky sites provide significantly better views due to the high contrast between the dark sky and the brightness of the object.


Step 1) Find the Constellation

  • At my location in the Northeast US, Orion rises in the southeastern sky just after midnight by mid-October, and as early as 6 PM by the month of January.

Orion Constellation Rising in the East - Image Credit: Starry Night 8 Pro Plus
Orion Constellation Rising in the East - Image Credit: Starry Night 8 Pro Plus
  • Orion is easily located as it is one of the sky’s brightest constellations and is home to a number of deep-sky objects, including today’s target, M42.

Orion Constellation Stick Figure - Image Credit Starry Night 8 Pro Plus
Orion Constellation Stick Figure - Image Credit Starry Night 8 Pro Plus

Are you still looking for your first telescope for observational astronomy? Check out my article "Which is the best type of telescope for Visual Astronomy?" and "Which Telescope Should I Buy? It turns out, it really depends..." to learn more.


To get started with astrophotography, consider reading "Beginner Astrophotography Without A Telescope" and for more advanced astrophotographers "Intermediate Astrophotography- Getting past the Frustration Curve".


Step 2) Find the Object Using Star Hopping

Orion Constellation with Telrad Reticle - Image Credit Starry Night 8 Pro Plus
Orion Constellation with Telrad Reticle - Image Credit Starry Night 8 Pro Plus

  • M42 is located just below Orion’s belt in the “sword” of Orion, at a distance of 1344 light-years from Earth.

  • The bottom, easternmost star of the belt, Alnitak, is our starting point for our observation.

  • Using a Telrad, I place my outer 2-degree ring on the star Alnitak and draw an imaginary line between Alnilam, the center star in the belt, and the center of the Telrad’s inner ring, and continue across to the opposite side of the outer 2-degree radius ring.

  • I then move the scope / Telrad down by 2 degrees in this direction.

  • This is the approximate location of M42.


Step 3) Move your eye to your Magnified Finder

Orion Constellation with 50mm Finder - Image Credit Starry Night 8 Pro Plus
Orion Constellation with 50mm Finder - Image Credit Starry Night 8 Pro Plus
  • Once I’ve roughly centered the scope, I move to my Stellarvue 9 x 50 magnified finder scope. In dark skies, M42 should be visible in a 40-50mm finderscope.

  • Center M42 in your finderscope.

  • If you cannot see the object in your finder or don’t have a magnifying finder, it’s now time to move to your main eyepiece.


Step 4) Move your eye to your Widest-Field Eyepiece

  • Always start your observations at a wide-field eyepiece such as a 30+mm eyepiece .

Orion Nebula Through Scope w/ Nagler 26mm Eyepiece- Image Credit Starry Night 8 Pro Plus
Orion Nebula Through Scope w/ Nagler 26mm Eyepiece- Image Credit Starry Night 8 Pro Plus

Once you have found and centered your object in your eyepiece, you can then magnify the image using lower mm eyepieces like the Nagler 9.

Orion Nebula Through Scope w/ Nagler 9mm Eyepiece- Image Credit Starry Night 8 Pro Plus
Orion Nebula Through Scope w/ Nagler 9mm Eyepiece- Image Credit Starry Night 8 Pro Plus

One of the common misconceptions of many people just getting into observational astronomy is that they hope to see with their eyes what they are viewing in images they see online. To your eye, M42 will appear in most telescopes as a fuzzy “cotton ball” patch in the sky, so if you are already seeing this and second-guessing yourself, you probably already found it.

Orion Nebula Through Scope - Image Credit Starry Night 8 Pro Plus
Orion Nebula Through Scope - Image Credit Starry Night 8 Pro Plus

Thank you so much for reading this Deep Sky with Dave post. This is part of my Messier Marathon series, in which I plan to go through all 110 Messier objects.


If you find this article helpful, please consider liking it and subscribing to the website. If you have a different method for finding M42, want to provide me feedback on the article, have suggestions or requests for future posts, or have any questions regarding my star-hopping techniques, observational astronomy, telescopes, astrophotography, spaceflight, or space exploration please leave them in the comments below.


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