The California Nebula
The California Nebula is a large bellowing bunch of gas in the sky. It’s a beautiful and iconic nebula in Perseus and gets its name from looking like the state of California in the United States of America.
At Magnitude 6 and about 1000 light years from Earth, the California Nebula is reasonably easy to image. Using very modest gear I was able to capture this target in February 2019.
NGC 1499 lies within Perseus, named after the Greek God of the same title. A great time to image this nebula is late November through to January. It raises early and stays high in the sky for the entire night, allowing you plenty of imaging time. So naturally I shot it in February. Not the end of the world though, but it was on its way down.
In this article I’ll talk about what it’s like imaging The California Nebula as well as why would you choose narrowband over broadband as well as challenges I faced.
The nice thing about The California Nebula is the bright star Menkib. Why is Menkib so useful? It’s right there next to it. The nebula looks like it’s wrapping around the star.
Find Perseus, and then look towards the bottom. Near M45 The Pleiades you should find Atik.
Menkib is the bright star next to Atik. And from there you’ve found NGC 1499. Okay, it’s slightly off from the star. But it’s close enough that it should be within the same field of view – unless you’re using a very deep telescope!
The California Nebula Information
- RA: 04hr 03m 18s
- Dec: +36° 25′ 19”
- Mag: 6
- Distance: 1.3k Light Years
Imaging NGC 1499
I really fancied trying my hand on making a HaRGB composite image of this target, to really get into the swing of composite images. I had recently bought myself a Baader 7nm Hydrogen Alpha filter and was getting used to it.
My idea was a long integration time. I knew about the limitations of using a Ha filter with a DSLR. What I wasn’t ready for was the amount of challenges that are faced when using narrowband filters with a DSLR. Never-the-less I was determined.
Mount: Sky-Watcher HEQ5 Pro
Scope: Sky-Watcher Evostar 80ED Pro
Camera: Modified Canon 450D
Guide Cam: ToupTek ToupCam GCMOS
Filters: SkyTech CLS-CCD Clip In Filter
Extras: QHYCCD PoleMaster
NGC 1499 In Hydrogen Alpha
Truly the biggest challenge was trying to frame and focus back in place with a 7nm Hydrogen Alpha filter. If I knew what I knew now, back then, I would’ve got a 12nm filter. 7Nm is very harsh for a DSLR especially with a small instrument like the Evostar 80ED.
What I ultimately did was take a screenshot of my guide camera’s loop when I knew I was framed correctly. I then used PHD and my guide camera (with a fine grid overlay) to position again. It isn’t a perfect method, and I guess it’s a strange form of manual platesolving, but it worked. Eventually.
I lost several hours to just fighting through the Ha filter. However I also lost several hours to EQMOD…
The nice thing about having the Hydrogen Alpha data is that after processing you can get a really dramatic grayscale photo. These aren’t to everybody’s taste. But sometimes I really enjoy the contrast and mood a narrowband black and white photo can portray.
Why Use Narrowband?
The California Nebula is an emission nebula. This means that the gases within the nebula emit their own wavelengths of light. Whilst you can image these in broadband (as in, no narrowband filters). You sometimes will get a much bigger bang for your buck using narrowband data.
So you can see there’s definitely the beginnings of a nice photo there using broadband data. Also the star colours will be nice and more natural. Narrowband has a habit of skewing star colours – especially if you go Bi-Colour or Hubble Pallete.
But if we compare the details from the broadband photo and add in the narrowband Hydrogen Alpha information and compare them side by side, you can see what a punch it adds.
Truly adding some Hydrogen Alpha to emission nebula photos can make all the difference.
At this time I was using my laptop to control the mount. I had used EQMOD before in 2016 on a different laptop to great effect. I had never guided with it, but the software ran.
What I begun noticing this time round though; was that EQMOD kept timing out. Sometimes it took a few minutes, sometimes it took an hour or two. But the big problem was because I was pulse guiding. This is where PHD sends guide corrections to the mount through EQMOD and the USB. So the fact EQMOD timed out, it meant that no corrections were making its way through. So I would lose sub exposures that way as well.
My work around was using the ST-4 cable to guide, and selecting EQMOD as an aux mount in PHD. That way the software knew where the scope was pointing, but it was correcting the mount through the ST-4 Port. That way, if/when EQMOD timed out, my guiding wasn’t effected.
Eventually I moved on to the SynScan Windows program which has healed all my woes.
I’ve edited this photo so many times now. With Photoshop I made a Hydrogen Alpha RGB composite photo. With 8 hours RGB and 12 hours Hydrogen Alpha data, it’s actually rather smooth.
I’m very proud of this photo. It’s really not perfect. If you saw the raw stacks you’ll see how much data is cropped due to alignment issues. Or the amp glow, or a multitude of other issues. But this photo represents my first foray into a new type of imaging. When I was also very new to seriously doing the hobby.
This is probably my 8th rendition of the California Nebula. No doubt there’ll be a 9th, 10th or 11th also.
I think this photo proves what you can do with some truly modest equipment. A modified 450D (quite an old camera now), an Evostar 80ED which is a really well priced telescope, and the legendary HEQ5 Pro which an always be found second hand.
Thanks very much for reading and I hope you enjoy the image. Until next time; clear skies. Keep looking up and keep them cameras clicking.
26 x 360s ISO1600
99 x 420s ISO 800
147 x 240s ISO 800