Space is vast, and for something pretty empty, there’s an awful lot in it. We’ve put together a list of just some of the Autumn targets available to astrophotographers with objects suitable for beginners right through to some real challenges – and some tips on how to image them.
Of course this is a very short list compared to how many great astrophotography targets there are out there. Depending where you are and when you’re reading this, some of the big summer nebulae might still be around, and some of the classic winter targets are already coming into view, with M1 and M45 already rising a little before midnight, followed by M42 a little while after.
What follows isn’t so much a guide as some things to look out for and, hopefully, a little inspiration. So, in no particular order:
M31 – The Andromeda Galaxy
Andromeda is very big and very bright, so although it makes a good observing target for beginners, it can be very difficult to image well. Check how much of the galaxy will fit on your chip using a field of view calculator and plan your composition from there. If your aim is to image the whole galaxy, consider taking a multi-pane mosaic. Another option is to focus on a single aspect, such as star cloud NGC 206. Andromeda’s core is very bright, so consider combining short exposures of the core with longer exposures to get detail in the dusty arms.
As well as LRGB, NGC 891 also makes an excellent target for OSC. For a different take, try a widefield shot of NGC 891 – you’ll find a huge number of faint fuzzies that can be brought out with a little careful processing.
M33 – The Triangulum Galaxy
M33 is a large galaxy so best imaged at shorter focal lengths. Although big, it’s also spread out, so a lot of subs or long exposures are the best way to get depth. The spiral arms are packed full of jewels and details and it’s worth adding some Ha data where possible to help bring these out.
NGC672 and IC1727
If you’ve already conquered M33, you might want to try this pair of spiral galaxies. With unusual red shifts, shapes and colours, they make both an aesthetically and scientifically interesting target. Open cluster Collinder 21 is also located nearby and can be captured with a wider shot.
NGC 6888 – The Crescent Nebula
The Crescent excels as a narrowband target, with Ha and OIII being the filters of choice for an outstanding bi-colour image. For an extra challenge, see if you can also capture PNG75.5+1.7 – the Soap bubble nebula – located close by.
NGC 7008 – The Fetus Nebula
NGC 7008 is a small and faint planetary nebula near Cygnus’ border with Cepheus. The nebula can be imaged in LRGB, though using Ha and OIII filters brings out additional details in the filaments.
We don’t have any images of NGC 7008 in our gallery yet – if you get a good shot you wouldn’t mind sharing with us, we’d love to see it!
IC 5146 – The Cocoon Nebula
For best results with IC 5146, add Ha to an LRGB image. A longer focal length will allow you to get close to the nebula for a detailed shot, while using a wide field of view makes it possible to capture the dark dust clouds that appear to be trailing from the cocoon itself.
M74 – The Phantom Galaxy
M74 is a face on spiral galaxy best imaged with longer focal length telescopes. Use LRGB, with as much luminance data as possible. It’s also worth gathering some Ha data if possible to bring out the jewels in the spiral arms.
Stephan’s Quintet – NGC7317, NGC7318a, NGC7318b, NGC7319 NGC7320
Stephan’s Quintet is a very faint group of galaxies so benefits from a lot of data taken from dark skies. With some careful composition, you can also capture nearby (and somewhat larger) NGC7331 in the same frame.
Near to Stephan’s Quintet is NGC 7331, a spiral galaxy similar to our own Milky Way. There are a number of galaxies near NGC 7331, though at around ten times further away, they’re also ten times the apparent size. This visual grouping is known as the Deer Lick Group and capturing details on these fainter galaxies makes for a great image.
NGC 7023 – The Iris Nebula
The Iris is a reflection nebula rather than an emission nebula, so LRGB is the way to go. One of the challenges is to balance the bright core with the surrounding dark nebula. One technique for this is to control the areas of strongest signal through the RGB channel, rather than the luminance.
vdB 141 – The Ghost Nebula
Near NGC 7023 is vdB 141, another reflection nebula. With a widefield shot or 2 pane mosaic, it’s possible to capture both in the same image, with the huge areas of dust in the region posing the biggest processing challenge. Use a long focal length to get close to vdB 141 itself and capture the embedded stars that light up the nebula with its eerie glow.
M76/NGC650/651 – Little Dumbbell Nebula
We all love the original Dumbbell, M27, but for something a little different (and a lot harder), try its namesake, the Little Dumbbell Nebula. While possible to capture in colour, M76 can really benefit from some narrowband data, particularly Ha, OIII, and SII filters to tease out the nebula’s intricate structure and faint details in the lobes. M76 is a small planetary nebula so a long focal length works best.
NGC 869/884 – Double Cluster in Perseus
As with all star images, excellent tracking, round stars and good, accurate star colours are key to a successful image. This is a big target so use a shorter focal length for a widefield shot.
Have a favourite Autumn target we’ve missed off the list? Some extra hints and tips? Share them in the comments below.
Or if you’ve had a go at imaging any of these targets, why not share them in our forum?