Bird, wildlife, and landscape photography by Jon Rista
Orion and Running Man – Conquered at Last!
For some time now, since September last year (and even farther back than that, before I purchased my 600mm lens, with even less success), I’ve been trying to image the Orion Nebula in all it’s glory. I tried on many occasions last year, in close up views as well as wider angle views. Those of you who regularly follow my work will likely know of the attempts. It was these attempts to image one of the more beautiful groups of nebula in the sky that ultimately lead me to purchase the Orion Atlas mount.
Orion Nebula is a complex object to image. It is an immensely detailed region of space, but more than that, the most difficult aspect of it is it’s dynamic range. The “core” of the nebula, at it’s very heart, is the Trapezium. This small cluster of stars emits a considerable amount of light, greatly brightening the core relative to the surrounding nebula. The surrounding emission and reflection nebula themselves are similarly much brighter than the outer reaches of the dusty fringes that normally cannot be seen, even with a good telescope and bright, wide field eyepieces.
This massive range of contrast ultimately requires that Orion Nebula be imaged in parts, much like an HDR image. To fully capture all of the surrounding dusty detail, while still resolving each of the stars of the Trapezium without the core becoming a bright white blob, one must manually blend several individual images…possibly as many as six or seven to entirely bring out all of the dust detail in the surrounding space. Each “image” must itself be a integration of anywhere from ten to many dozens of individual subs, which must be calibrated and stacked. As you can imagine, it’s an arduous and challenging journey to image Orion nebula well.
Orion Nebula and Running Man – Original Color
I’ve tried to image this on several occasions since getting my mount, and I simply have not had enough clear, uninterrupted dark sky time until last night. It was finally a clear night most of the night, with a couple patches of thin, transparent clouds that drifted by. For the first time since purchasing my mount, I managed to image throughout the entire night, from civil twilight in the evening to civil twilight in the morning. Aside from a bout of bad guiding part way through the night that largely ruined my attempts to image the Leo Triplet (a trio of galaxies), the night was quite productive.
I managed to get enough frames for three separate images of Orion, as well as a little bit of light time on a few of the dimmer and more challenging faint emission nebula in the outer halo of the Milky Way (such as Monkey Head, Rosette, and a few other various objects within Orion, Gemini, and Monoceros.) None of these images are viable, I did not have long enough exposures and not enough sub frames to stack well enough to do anything with. Part way through this phase of the night my guiding problems started, and persisted until the latter part of the night, when M51, a galaxy in the Big Dipper, finally moved into view. The rest of the night was spent, apparently successfully, imaging M51, which I hope to process soon!
In addition to the color-corrected horizontal version of Orion Nebula and it’s neighbor Running Man Nebula (look closely, you’ll see it’s namesake), I’ve included a more properly oriented vertical version in the original color as it came out of my camera.
The Running Man nebula, also known as NGC1973, NGC1975, and NGC1977, is a reflection nebula divided into three major sections. The name, Running Man, was coined by a Texas astronomical society member due to the shape created by the darker lanes in the middle of the nebula.
At the heart of the Orion Nebula is the Trapezium, a small open cluster of stars. A standard telescope and eye test is to see if you can resolve at least four of the stars that comprise the Trapezium cluster, which can be seen here just above the dark finger of dust. To the left of that same dark finder of dust is the spherical reflection nebula M43, also called De Mairan’s Nebula.