Imaging The Pelican Nebula

It was a fun session imaging The Pelican Nebula. This emission target has always escaped me and I’ve not had a good photo of it to date.

That has now changed.

Imaging The Pelican Nebula

Located within the constellation of Cygnus. IC 5070, often known as the Pelican Nebula, is a semi-large emission nebula. An emission nebula is a collection of gas in space, primarily consisting of Hydrogen-Alpha.

The Pelican Nebula is located extremely close by to the North America Nebula (NGC 7000). Indeed both are often imaged together anyway. NGC 7000 by far is usually the more popular target. But I decided I really wanted to give the Pelican some integration time. I’ve tried this target several times with a variety of equipment. However I usually had a DSLR, and being a summertime emission target. Long exposures through narrowband filters in the height of summer isn’t friendly on old DSLR cameras.

Key facts

  • RA: 20h 50m 48s
  • Declination: +44° 20′ 60″
  • Distance: 1800 light years
  • Size: 60′ x 50′
  • Magnitude: 8
  • Constellation: Cygnus
  • Target Type: Emission Nebula

Equipment Used

Naturally to photograph a slightly dim emission zone such as The Pelican Nebula, a telescope and a cooled dedicated astronomy camera is recommended. This time round I used a widefield telescope teamed with a square sensor camera.

I’ve been using a small, portable telescope for review from First Light Optics lately. The StellaMira 66ED. At 400mm focal length it’s a light option, and when teamed with the 2.7x crop factor that the ZWO ASI 533mc Pro has, gave a tight field of view on the Pelican Nebula. Perfect for framing it up easily and readily.

The filter I chose was the Optolong L-eXtreme. Being an emission based nebula it’s a no brainer to use a narrowband filter, and the L-eXtreme is definitely a great filter to use on this sort of target. Being able to capture Hydrogen-Alpha as well as Oxygen-III in a single session on a colour camera brings a certain advantage to it.

I also went back and attempted a HaRGB image by using the Optolong L-Pro Max filter to capture some natural colours. However ultimately I decided that I preferred the look of the L-eXtreme image the most.

It was all mounted on the tried and tested, robust and never-let-you-down Sky-Watcher EQ6-R Pro. I’ve had this mount for a number of years now and aside from wanting a good power supply, it’s never disappointed me or left me wanting.


  • Telescope: StellaMira 66ED
  • Mount: Sky-Watcher EQ6-R Pro
  • Camera: ZWO ASI 533mc Pro
  • Filter: Optolong L-eXtreme Dual Narrowband Filter
  • Guiding: Astro Essentials Mini Guide Scope & ZWO ASI 120mm
  • Extras: ZWO ASI Air Plus

Getting The Image

So with the equipment decided and the target locked. It was down to actually shooting the images and capturing The Pelican Nebula. After a bit of trial and discovery I settled on 5 minute long exposures. I’ve found that with a half decent telescope the ZWO ASI 533mc Pro performed well with 5 minute long pictures. 10 minutes looked cleaner with a bit more signal-to-noise ratio. But in the end I opted for more subs to get a cleaner image.

I actually ended up imaging the Pelican with the L-eXtreme over 2 nights. The first being the 6th August, and the latter being the 12th August. The second night actually was used as a test between shooting with just a hydrogen-alpha filter vs shooting with a dual-narrowband filter during a strong full Moon. In essence, I compared a Hydrogen Filter against a Dual Narrowband filter.

Cygnus, The Swan, was high in the sky also. Being the peak of summertime the Swan soared overhead. When it got dark enough to begin imaging it was actually already really close to the meridian. The absolute pinnacle point of Cygnus season had passed by now. But it was still well positioned for me.

After my polar alignment, made easy by the ZWO ASI Air’s built in Polar Alignment function, I calibrated my guiding on the nearby star Deneb. I then slewed to IC5070 to begin my imaging session. Creating the plan was easy enough: as many 5 minute exposures as one man can do.

All said and done I captured 84 light frames totaling 7 hours of data. Of which I used Deep Sky Stacker to stack the best 67 images (80%). The final image contains around 5.5 hours of total integration time.

I edited the image in Adobe Photoshop. A process that itself took several hours over a couple of days before I decided I was happy with it.

The Last Word

All in all the Pelican Nebula is actually a rewarding target to photograph. You do see some absolutely insane shots in the SHO Hubble Palette where the definition is so crisp and the dark nebula spots are pronounced. I’m still some way off from being that good. But I’m more than happy with my end result with this image.

To photograph The Pelican Nebula yourself, a telescope is recommended. However a widefield imaging setup of about 300mm will suffice to fit in the entire of the North America Nebula as well as the Pelican Nebula. However it is often overshadowed by the North America Nebula. For that reason I think using a telescope to frame it on its own is a highly rewarding experience.

Also, of course, being an emission nebula you can always do yourself a favour by either using a modified DSLR with a narrowband/dual narrowband filter. Or dedicated OSC cameras again with a dual narrowband filter. Or your mono setup if you have one of course.

I’m very happy with the end result for this year. Who knows, perhaps I’ll revisit it again sometime in the future. But for now, I’m ready to let Cygnus set, and to let the autumn and winter constellations appear, ready for their grand entrance.

Clear skies all

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