Looks are deceiving; the nebula is some 1300 to 1600 light years away from earth, while the star Alnitak is ‘only’ 815 light years away. While much of the billowing fire from the nebula is from ultraviolet light having electrons knocked away from the clouds of hydrogen our nebula glows when the electrons and ionized hydrogen recombine. The dark areas are the result of gas and dust in front of the nebula. Gives a new meaning to the term ‘what a gas’ doesn’t it? This is a star forming region.
The images below are another example of NGC2024 that I've been working on in San Antonio.