Nightscapes & Deep Sky Colors

Astrophotography Brian A. Morganti

M78 Nebula Complex

NGC 2071 / NGC 2067 / NGC 2064

McNeil's Nebula


Mouse Over the above image for deep sky object identification

M78 is a bright blue reflection nebula that lies about two and a half degrees northeast of Alnitak (Zeta Orionis), the easternmost star in the belt of Orion. M78 actually lies in a complex of reflection, emission and dark nebulosity that is part of the Orion molecular cloud that is located about 1,600 light years from Earth. The complex also includes the more famous Horsehead Nebula, Barnard's Loop, the Flame Nebula, and M42, the Great Nebula in Orion.  Similar to M42, M78 hosts a large number of very young stars that are only a few hundred thousand years old. 

McNeil's nebula is also visible just to the southeast of M78. It is a variable reflection nebula. It was discovered by amateur astronomer Jay McNeil on January 23, 2004 from McNeil's suburban backyard in Paducah, Kentucky with a 76mm (3 inch aperture) telescope and CCD camera. The nebula can be located by rolling your mouse over the above image.  This nebula lit up when a very young star catalogued as IRAS 05436-0007 went into an outburst, illuminating the surrounding cloud of dust and gas.


  • Date & Location:  February 9th, 2013 - StarEffects Observatory - Bernville, PA

  • Weather:  Light winds, steady temperature near 23F. 100% fresh snow cover

  • Sky Conditions:  Clear with average transparency, but poor seeing and lots of sky glow due to fresh snow pack.

  • SQM-L: 19:94 start  - 20:12 finish (much lower than average)

  • Optics:  TeleVue NP101is @ 540mm f5.4

  • Filter:  Hutech IDAS-LPS (Light Pollution Suppression)

  • Mount:  AP900GTO

  • Guiding:  Orion SSAG @ 5 second exposures

  • Camera:  Canon T1i (500d) Hap Griffin modified - Baader UV/IR

  • Exposure:  29 x 6 min (2 hours 54 min total) all at ISO 800

  • Calibration Frames:  None - sub freezing

  • Processing:  Images Plus 4.50b, PS CS6, GradientXTerminator, NIK filters  

  • Comments:  Although the sky was clear, excessive sky glow limited exposures to 6 minutes before background saturation began to overcome the signal being recorded.  Although I was able to extract far more detail than my previous 40 minute image attempt below, I was not able to capture the finer details that I had hoped for.  I'd like to try this one again on a darker night and with a higher resolution image sensor. 


Comparisons below from previous imaging session

IMAGE DETAILS for above image:

  • Date & Location:  January 10, 2010  - Bernville, PA

  • Weather:  Calm, 17F.

  • Sky Conditions:  Clear with above average transparency. 

  • Optics:  TeleVue NP101is Refractor with 0.8x TeleVue Reducer = 432mm @ f4.3

  • Filter:  Astronomic  EOS clip-in CLS-CCD (Light Pollution Suppression)

  • Mount:  Losmandy G-11 equatorial with Gemini V4

  • Guiding:  Orion Solitaire w/TeleVue TV60is

  • Camera:  Canon T1i (500D) Hap Griffin Modified - Baader UV/IR

  • Exposure:  40 min (5 x 8 min) @ ISO 800 RAW

  • Calibration Frames:  No dark frame subtraction (17F)

  • Processing:  Photoshop CS4, Noise Ninja, NIK, Noel Carboni Astronomy Tools

  • Comments:  This  is a target more probably better suited to a 12" aperture scope or larger in order to reveal the more subtle filament details, but overall I am pleased with my first attempt at capturing and processing this image.  Image is a 100% crop from original capture. 

Astrophotography  -  Nightscapes & Deep Sky Colors