The Horsehead Nebula

The Hunter Becomes The Hunted

Beginning our tour around the Orion constellation, we start off with perhaps the most famous of its deep space objects. The Horsehead Nebula is so iconic that it needs next to no introduction. It is arguably perhaps the most famous of all deep space objects, and that’s simply down to the fact that it’s so striking and easily recognisable.

Discovered by Williamina Fleming in 1888, approximately 1375 light years from earth, it would take around 51 million years for humanity to reach it using our current technology, assuming it takes about 37,000 years for us to travel one light year. At 3.5 light years in diameter, it would take us 129,500 years to travel across it. I would certainly take the time to follow the link to Williamina Fleming’s bio, for that in itself makes for an interesting read.

When you start to deal with how big space actually IS, and that objects such as the Horsehead Nebula are among the closest interstellar neighbours to us, then we begin to realise that the chances of humanity being alone in all that vastness is close to zero. How arrogant of us to think that Nature, in her infinite wisdom, would create all of that for just us.

I first had a go at this area about three years ago using an Altair GPCam2 290c. Bear in mind that, much like the ASI178MC I currently use, this camera is very much more for planetary and lunar work, although it can be used for deep space objects as well.

IC 434 Horsehead Nebula

All things being equal, at the time I was pretty happy with this image, given the equipment I was using. But, as with most images, I wanted MORE! More detail, more time on it to bring out the best I could for this much sought after area. And this Orion season, I seem to be getting it!

The Horsehead Nebula, 209 mins with the ED72 and ASI178MC

The emission and reflection nebula just below and to the left of the Horsehead Nebula is NGC 2023, which was interestingly discovered by William Herschel in 1785, over 100 years before the Horsehead itself was!

So far this season I’ve concentrated a lot of my (very) limited imaging time on this, and at 256 minutes it’s still quite lacking to my mind. If I’m to put more time into it at this point then I think narrowband is going to be the way forward in order to bring out that rich hydrogen alpha region that is so symbolic of this area. Although I’ll be using a dual narrowband filter, I’m really only interested in the Ha at this point, although I’ll retain the Oiii for a later date.

The (current) version of the final image is a combination of 1 and 2 minute subs totalling 256 mins, shot with the ZWO ASI178MC fitted to the SkyWatcher 72ED, and mounted on the EQ5 Pro. The only filter used was an Astronomik 1.25″ CLS CCD filter to combat the class 5 skies in Gloucester. The final image was stacked in astropixel processor, where it was cropped initially and star reduction used, before bringing into Photoshop for final edits.

256 mins using the 72ED and ASI178C. Had to run the “remove vertical banding” tool in Photoshop as I haven’t been dithering. Was hoping the calibration frames might have solved it but alas no

Going by the projected forecasts that may well be my last run at this for the season, and so I’m going to leave it there. IF I do manage more time then it’s going to be in narrowband to enhance that rich hydrogen alpha and bring out more of the details in the nebulosity.

So for now, many thanks for reading and clear skies all.

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