Drama in the Orion Nebula

"Dark, heavy clouds came up and clashed against each other.  The atmosphere parted and rolled back; then we could look up through the open space in Orion, whence came the voice of God. The Holy City will come down through that open space" {Ellen White, Early Writings, Page 41.2, January, 1848}.  

As a sea captain in the early 1800's, Joseph Bates, (no middle name) born July 8, 1792, was an expert in celestial navigation and maintained a life-long interest in astronomy.  After the Disappointment of 1844 in a pamphlet he printed in 1846, Bates opined that the Garden of Eden and the Holy City were in heaven, waiting to be brought to earth through a door in the open heavens, both guarded for the time being by the flaming sword of the Lord's angel.  He wrote:

From what part of Heaven will this glorious City appear?  We answer, from where the flaming sword [the sword just below Orion's belt of three stars] is "guarding the way of the tree of life," and the Cherubims are stationed.  John 1:51. Furgerson, the celebrated astronomer of the last century, in describing some of the many wonders in the Heavens, says ". . .the most remarkable of all the cloudy stars is that in the middle of Orion's Sword, where seven stars (of which three [now with more powerful telescopes known to be four stars, called the Trapezium] are very close together) seem to shine through a cloud, very lucid in the middle, but faint and ill defined about the edges.  It looks like a GAP in the sky, through which one may see (as it were) part of a much brighter region.  Joseph Bates, The Opening Heavens, Pamphlet 1, page 6.  Italicized comments added.

The Lord largely confirmed Bates opinion two years later in Ellen White's vision quoted above.  It was not an unqualified confirmation because Ellen White does not say where in Orion the opening is, and Orion is a huge constellation, but as we will see Bates' view appears to be a front running candidate still today.

Orion is one of the most recognized constellations (star groups) with its three prominent Belt stars, or three stars in a row on the sky’s dome.  This constellation can be seen at night at this time of year, visible from all parts of the globe.  In North America it can be viewed now, mid-late October, just before dawn somewhat south of the zenith but quite high in the sky.  From ancient times Orion was visualized as a hunter with a sword hanging at his right hip below his Belt.  The Orion Nebula is the middle “star” in the sword.  See the third image below.  It may seem a mere co-incidence that Orion's sword which reminds us of the sword guarding the way to the tree of life is also where the gap in the heavens appears but this is not the only co-incidence. 

Since the Nebula's discovery in the seventeenth century the Orion Nebula has fascinated astronomers and the public.  Wikipedia states:

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. Wikipedia article, The Orion Nebula.

As telescopes improved, the window or gap theory in the Orion Nebula was generally discounted.  The higher definition images still suggested it was possible but the theory gained ground that the nebula cloud was simply back-lit by the four stars of the Trapezium, that there was no corridor or gap behind the nebula where the light originated.  However in 2012 a new study was released that showed evidence that there is indeed a gap or corridor in Orion, a black hole.

Writing in the November 5, 2012 issue of EarthSky Deborah Byrd, the editor, reports:

In the last week an international team of astrophysicists announced the result of their work in computer modeling, which suggests that a famous nebula – or cloud – in Orion known as the Orion Nebula has a black hole at its heart, whose mass is some 200 times the mass of our sun.
If it exists, the black hole would reside somewhere between the four bright stars which mark the center of the Orion Nebula. These stars are known as the Trapezium. . . These scientists were excited about this result. They said the finding had:
… dramatic implications for our understanding of how massive stars form and how such rich star clusters hatch from their gaseous cocoons. Having such a massive black hole at our doorstep would be a dramatic chance for intense studies of these enigmatic objects.

Image of the central region of the Orion Nebula. A black hole with 200 times the mass of our sun might lurk there. Image via NASA/JPL-

This Hubble Space Telescope image shows the stars of the Trapezium in visible light (left) and infrared light (right).

A Dragon Fight in the Heart of Orion

About a year earlier another phenomena surfaced – a stellar depiction of the great controversy centered in exactly the same location; a large celestial dragon on the left of the Trapezium facing off with an even larger man on the right who is leaning into the dragon as though moving in swiftly for the kill.

Pointing out the main features of the depiction in Discover, June 24, 2011 Phil Plait writes: 

Do you see the dragon on the left, wings outstretched, breathing fire, blasting it at the man on the right?  He has a face, and I see his shoulder, back, and outstretched arm as well, as if he’s battling the dragon.
Let me be clear: this picture is real! Well, the dragon and face aren’t real but the images in the nebula are actually there.  You might see them more easily in this contrast-enhanced version, too.
Let me explain…OK, first: this really is the Orion Nebula. It was taken by Hubble in 2006, . . In the picture above from reddit, part of the frame was masked to show just the dragon and the man more clearly — I added the labels "masked region" to make it clear which part were darkened.  I’ve included the original Hubble picture here.
What’s amazing to me . . . is how . . . did I miss this all these years?!  It’s right there, and it’s in an image of one of the most celebrated and famous objects in the entire night sky!  Discover article by Phil Plaite, June 24, 2011.

Whether the Lord will come for us through the Orion Nebula or some other part of Orion we still can't definitely say.  But there is a celestial horse on the outer edge of the Nebula as if waiting for him to mount for His ride here.  One thing is certain.  When the Lord mounts His white horse and with the host of Heaven's armies comes to earth, every eye will see Him.  All of the astronomical world is already intently looking in that direction. 

For a short 3D tour of the Nebula thanks to Hubble, see this YouTube video.   God bless!




Mark Shipowick is a dual Canadian and American citizen who lives in Summers County, West Virginia.  He is a lawyer by training, admitted in Ontario, Canada, and New York State, but also does a health outreach ministry and builds. 

Mark can be reached  at mark.shipowick@gmail.com.