Thursday, February 21, 2008

The Great Orion Nebula

This is probably the most looked at telescopic "deep sky" object in the night sky of the northern hemisphere, though Deep Sky may not be the best description of the object as it's really rather bright as far as these things go! Visually you can see a definitive glow of gas in the centre of Orion's belt - you can certainly tell it's not stellar in nature. Through the eyepiece, I tend to see a tenuous curls of green glowing gas, studded with the central stars that make up the trapezium. The low elevation in the sky makes viewing it quite different every time depending on the local sky conditions, and the fainter outer curls seem to pass in and out of my vision as I look. Sometimes I wonder if I'm wishing the details to come out, but the structure is very much real!

I have tried to image M42 in the past with a modified webcam - this bought out the central region not too unlike what I could see visually, but with the added dimension of colour - a lovely pinky red tint. Moving on a few years, I now have my trusty Canon 10D, and with a motorised Vixen mount on loan I though I'd point my ED80 refractor towards the hunters belt to see what I could capture with a DLSR set up.

Boy, I was not disappointed by the results! From the first single frame I knew that I was going to get a very satisfying result! I proceeded to take a series of 40 30 second exposures, complimenting them with 20 dark frames, and ran it through Deep Sky Stacker and PixInsightLE to bring out this result. It even captured the "Running Man" nebula, NGC1977, at the top of the frame. It is called such because the dark lanes running through the nebulosity look like a man running - something that is quite subtle on this image but still visible with some imagination! Depending on your monitor settings, you may be able to pick this out - a lot of TFT's tend not to have linear brightness intensities across all shades of grey so it may look a little dark.

This was a milestone for me, and a great little test for my camera, mount, and overall work flow. When I get my Astronomics CLS light pollution filter, I shall take longer subs and see just how far the nebulosity can be traced. For now though, more 30 second subs and a good set of flats can only enhance the image further ... I just need some more free time and a clear night :)

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