The Orion Nebula (also known as Messier 42, M42, or NGC 1976) is a diffuse nebula situated south of Orion's Belt. It is one of the brightest nebulae, and is visible to the naked eye in the night sky. M42 is located at a distance of 1,344±20 light years and is the closest region of massive star formation to Earth. The M42 nebula is estimated to be 24 light years across. Older texts frequently referred to the Orion Nebula as the Great Nebula in Orion or the Great Orion Nebula. Yet older, astrological texts refer to it as Ensis (Latin for "sword"), which was also the name given to the star Eta Orionis, which can be seen close to the nebula from Earth.
The Orion Nebula is one of the most scrutinized and photographed objects in the night sky, and is among the most intensely studied celestial features. The nebula has revealed much about the process of how stars and planetary systems are formed from collapsing clouds of gas and dust. Astronomers have directly observed protoplanetary disks, brown dwarfs, intense and turbulent motions of the gas, and the photo-ionizing effects of massive nearby stars in the nebula. There are also supersonic "bullets" of gas piercing the dense hydrogen clouds of the Orion Nebula. Each bullet is ten times the diameter of Pluto's orbit and tipped with iron atoms glowing bright blue. They were probably formed one thousand years ago from an unknown violent event.