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This is the M78 Nebula, a reflection nebula roughly 1600 light years from Earth in the constellation of Orion, as photographed from my pool deck. While I refer to it as M78, it is actually a region of interstellar dust containing at least three other reflection and dark nebulae, and possibly more. Clearly visible in the picture are NGC 2064, NGC 2067, NGC 2068 (M78), and NGC 2071. There is another, as yet uncatalogued nebula, in the image, called the McNeil Nebula.

These nebulae are a giant molecular cloud of dust lighted up by the reflected light of newly formed, very bright, large stars. This region is banging out new stars at a prolific rate (for stars anyhow).

To find M78 in the night sky, draw a line between the stars Alnitak (bottom star in Orion’s belt) and Betelgeuse (Red giant star at the top left of Orion). M78 lies a quarter of the distance along this line closer to Alnitak.


Telescope: Celestron NexStar 8SE SCT

Mount: iOptron CEM60

Focal Reducer/Field Flattener: Celestron .63 Reducer/Flattener

Camera: ZWO ASI 1600MM Pro

Auto Guider: ZWO Off Axis Guider

Guide Camera: Starlight Xpress Lodestar X2 Mono

Filter Wheel: ZWO 8-Position Filter Wheel


Luminance: 52 x 5 Mins

Red: 15 x 5 Mins

Green: 15 x 5 Mins

Blue: 15 x 5 Mins

Total: 8 Hours


Capture Details

I photographed this object over ten nights, ranging from 1 Nov 2020 to 19 Jan 2021. I set my equipment up on the pool deck in the late afternoon. I had everything set up, balanced, and hooked up to the computer and waiting on sunset on all nights. I used a computer planetarium called Stellarium for planning and target framing. I used PHD2 for autoguiding and Astrophotography Tool (APT) for session management and plate solving interface. I used ASTAP for plate solving and iOptron Commander to control the telescope.

This was the most difficult target I have captured to date. On most of the 10 nights, I was plagued by intermittent clouds, poor seeing conditions, and equipment performance issues (possibly operator error). Even on nights with no clouds and good seeing conditions, my scope could not see this region nearly as well as it could the rest of the sky. When I accomplished my focus and mount synchronization activities across the sky, I got clear, dark images with bright, crisp stars. However, when I pointed at M78, the images would appear cloudy and hazy. I had a difficult time finding a star bright enough and sharp enough for a guide star. Even when I could find a guide star, the autoguiding was terrible. Over time, I came to suspect that these problems were caused by the target itself. Since this part of the sky is dominated by the thick gas and dust clouds, it may be logical that my scope was having a hard time seeing through all that.

Anyhow, around 1600 years ago when the Persians were building their first windmills, the Roman empire was beginning its collapse, The Middle Ages were starting up, and Attila the Hun was defeated at the Battle of Chalons, these Nebulae reflected some photons towards Earth. Last night I caught some of them.

If you like this image and would like to see how I photographed it, please watch my youtube video where I documented my efforts to photograph this object:

Phtographing The M78 Dark Nebula


M78 Dark Nebula

  • If you order a metal print of The M78 Nebula, you can choose the size, surface, and finish of your picture.

    Canvas Prints come in only one finish (Flat/Matte) and one hanging option, so you will not be prompted for those options.

    Acrylic prints come with only one finish and one hanging option (French Cleat -- because of their heavier weight).

    You can order several different sizes of Metal, Canvas, and Acrylic Prints.

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