Category Archives: Nebulae

Lagoon and Trifid Nebulae

Lagoon and Trifid Nebulae
The Lagoon Nebula, M8 and the Trifid Nebula

I wish this was first light on the new tube, but my first night out did nothing but knock some of the rust off of my observatory skills.  Still, the new Stellar Vue SVQ 100 APO lived up to its reputation.

The Trifid Nebula at upper left is a fascinating combination or emission nebula (the red), reflection nebula (the blue) and dark nebulae (the dark dust lanes that divide the emission nebula).

The Lagoon Nebula dominates the center of the image and the globular star cluster NGC 6544 peeks in at the bottom, just right of center.

Focus on this image is a bit soft, but, but if you click the image to view it full screen, and then click it again to see it full size, you will see that the stars in the corners are every bit as sharp and round as the ones at the center of the image.  I am very impressed with the optics on this telescope!

This image is a combination of 18 sub-frames of 4 minutes each at ISO 800.  The telescope has a focal length of 580 mm at f/5.8.

M97 and M108

M97 and M108
M97 and M108 near the big dipper.

I shot this in March, but I couldn’t bring myself to post it until I had something to post from my replacement tube.  I shot this with a Celestron RASA, an 11″ diameter scope with a blazing fast f/2.2 focal ratio.  Sadly, it is also WAY too heavy for my Orion Atlas mount.  I was lucky to get this picture the way the mount was straining under the weight of the equipment.

Anyway, M97, the Owl Nebula, on the left, is a planetary nebula, an expanding ball of gas which has been expelled from the outer layers of a star which is running out of fuel.  Then that ball of gas is ionized by what remains of the star.  M97 is a couple thousand light years away.

At the top right is M108, a galaxy around 42 million light years away.  Our view of it is nearly edge on.

This picture was combined from the best (not sure how many) of around 44 exposures of 4 minutes each.



Messier 78
Messier 78 is a challenging target in the constellation Orion. Click the picture for a larger view.

I knew when I first shot this that I wanted to do it again with more focal length, so here it is.  Used the 127mm apochromatic tube with a focal reducer for a focal length of 666.4 mm.  This images uses the best 117 of 152 exposures that I shot, 15 of them were 8 minutes at ISO 1600 and the other 102 were 4 minutes at ISO 3200, for a total of 8 hours 48 minutes of data.  Shot on 11/6/2015 and 11/13/2015.

I have processed this data more than a dozen times.  No other rendition even vaguely resembles this one, and it is the only one I like.


The constellation Casiopeia with many obvious deep space objects.

My main mount is still not up to speed for long exposure tracking, but I decided to break out the Vixen Polarie and shoot the 35mm lens just so I could shoot something.  I shot at wide open f/1.4, so there is some coma and blurring in the corners, but that stopped me from getting spikes on the stars and allowed 30 second exposures at ISO 400.  I shot a total of 625 exposures, but a lot of that had extreme light pollution from the east horizon at the beginning of the shoot and the west horizon at the end.  I got the best results by just stacking the best 240 from the middle of the night when Cassiopeia was almost directly overhead.  You can easily see the Heart and Soul Nebulae, the PacMan Nebula, and the Double Cluster, as well as other deep space objects.  Don’t just look at this one full screen, zoom it to full size or larger.  Located in the outer edge of the Milky Way, the number of tiny stars in this frame is amazing!

M97 and M108

M97, the Owl Nebula, and M108, an edge view of a galaxy.  The Owl Nebula is a "planetary" nebula, so called, because it looks a bit like a planet through a small telescope, since it does not twinkle like a star does.  It is what will eventually happen to our own Sun.
M97, the Owl Nebula, and M108, an edge view of a galaxy. The Owl Nebula is a “planetary” nebula, so called, because it looks a bit like a planet through a small telescope, since it does not twinkle like a star does. It is what will eventually happen to our own Sun.

Well, I spent a lot of time processing this image, but I spent most of it discovering that I could not torture it as hard as I normally do.  The more I picked at it, the worse it got, and at last I would throw it away and start over.  (Often, I will save, start over and eventually combine the previous try with the one I am working on.)

This is combined from the best 20 of 27 exposures of 360 seconds each at ISO 1600 on the 127 mm apochromatic refractor.  Shot without an LP filter.

Bless Its Pointed Little Head

The Lambda Orionis Nebula, the head of the constellation Orion, the Hunter.
The Lambda Orionis Nebula, the head of the constellation Orion, the Hunter.

This is the head and shoulders of the constellation Orion, turned sideways.  Betelgeuse (lower right) and Bellatrix (upper right) are the shoulders, and the little line of five stars near the center (and enlarged in the inset at lower left) make up what appears to be the one faint star that is Orion’s head.  In fact, Orion’s head is so faint, that you need rather dark sky to see it with the naked eye.

When I first saw this through the eyepiece of a telescope, I immediately thought of the old Jefferson Airplane album title (also the title of this post.  Much to my surprise, it turns out that Orion’s head is really a huge ball of hydrogen gas, excited by the light of nearby stars.

I took this shot Thanksgiving weekend, and only got five exposures before my power went out, so this is pretty noisy, and not really a very good astrophoto, but it is the best I have so far.

The Rosette Nebula — NGC 2237

The Rosette Nebula, which is actually made up of NGC 2237, NGC 2238, NGC 2239, NGC 2244 and NGC 2246. Click on the image for a larger view.

I’m sitting on a pile of problem data that I may never process to suit me, and this one is only an exception in that I got a version I kind of liked the first night.

I’m pretty sure the Rosette Nebula is problem data to start with, because if you look it up in Google Images you will see that no two astrophotographers seem to end up with the same colors on this target.

This is a stack of the best 56 of 71 exposures of 300 seconds each taken at ISO 800 and f/5.6 on the 400mm lens without the light pollution filter.  I’m still deciding if the LP filter causes more problems than it solves.

Orion, Flame and Horsehead Nebulae

NGC 2024, IC 434 and M42.
NGC 2024, the Flame Nebula; IC 434, the bright nebula which frames the Horse Head Nebula; M42, the Orion Nebula; and the three stars of Orion’s belt at the left.

Coming so soon on the heels of my post of the Flame and the Horsehead, one might get the impression that the constellation Orion is my favorite, but, I can explain.  It is, and has been since long before I took up astronomy.

The three brightest stars at the left end of this shot are the stars that make up Orion’s belt.  The Orion Nebula (M42) and the string of stars it is impaled on are Orion’s sword, so, yes, the picture is sideways from the way it would appear in the sky…if you could see 6 hours worth of light all at once.

Most of this image is built from 48 exposures of 450 seconds each at f/5.6 and ISO 1600, shot with the 200mm lens.  The core of M42, however, is so bright that it burns out badly at those settings, so I alternated those exposures with 31 second exposures at f/5.6 and ISO 800.

The different exposures were calibrated separately, aligned and cropped together in one batch (to keep them easy to align with each other), then stacked and processed separately before being combined in the final image.



M 78
Messier 78 and a little chunk of Barnard’s Loop. Click the picture to see a larger version

Wow, did I learn a lot this weekend.  This shot was not going to get on this site because it wasn’t good enough.  Turns out my processing techniques were the failure, not the data.

The red cloud at the left is part of Barnard’s loop, a huge “C” shaped hydrogen cloud that wraps around the lower 2/3 of the constellation Orion.  M 78 is the blue object towards the right.  Between it and Barnard’s Loop is NGC 2071, which, like M78 is a reflection nebula.  As I understand it, they are made of the same material as the dark clouds that surround them, but are lit up by nearby stars.

The picture is a stack of 46 images of 450 seconds each, taken at f/5.6 and ISO 1600 with the 400mm lens.

Flame and Horse Head Nebulae

Flame and Horse Head Nebulae
The Flame Nebula (NGC 2024, with the nearby iconic Horse Head Nebula. Click to see a larger image.

Just under 4 hours of data went into this image, 39 exposures of 360 seconds each with the 40mm lens at f/5.6 and ISO 1600.  I still want to go back with the 200mm lens and get this in the same frame with the Orion Nebula, but, now I also want to get the Orion Nebula with this lens, too.  Luckily, the choice is which one first, not just which one.  Shot Oct. 22, 23 and/or 24 (2 of those) in the wee hours…and I just got around to processing it.  Close up below just cropped from the above image.

A close up of the nebulae in the other image.
A close up of the nebulae in the other image.