2015-05-28 Astrophotography: The Flaming Star Nebula IC 405

Flaming Star-3I am still very new to astrophotography, and one of the aspects that interest and excite me the most about it, is that there is so much to learn about every facet of this photographic genre.  From image collection to data processing, astrophotography is perhaps the most complicated form of photography that exists.  With persistence and dedication to overcome the challenges inherent in astro, I find that the personal rewards in this growth are immeasurable.  It seems that every time I sit down to dig into this I am able to learn something new, and through this learning process I am able to improve upon my techniques.  A perfect example is the image contained in this blog post.

I captured the photos use to create this image back in April, and was very discouraged when I sat down at my computer to review them.  After processing the images to the best of my abilities at the time I came to the conclusion that there was nothing there!  All I saw were stars!  Where was the nebula I was photographing!? I almost hit the delete button out of frustration to wipe this night of imaging out of existence, but as my finger hovered over the delete button I restrained myself and decided that I would hold onto the files and catalog them as a “learning experience,” for what not to do.  Little did I know that this “learning experience,” was not about collecting images, but rather about processing them.

Photographing objects in the night sky is a challenge first and foremost because the objects themselves are very faint.  Most are not visible to the naked eye, many are not even visible with optics unless viewing from a very dark location, and there are some that are just plain invisible without the benefit of long exposure photography.  The Flaming Star nebula (IC 405) is one of these such objects, and at my location, just outside of light polluted Burlington, Vermont, it is absolutely invisible.  The key to creating an image such as this is generating enough exposure time by taking many long exposures with the plan of combing them into one very long exposure image.  Each single exposure only collects a few photons of light, but by combining many of these together, the faintest of details begin to emerge with more clarity.  Coaxing these details out of a combined image is a significant challenge.

The Flaming Star Nebula, cataloged as IC 405, is found within the constellation of Auriga and located in this image right of center. Two additional nebulae are pictured, to the left of The Flaming Star is IC 410, another large emission nebula, and to the upper left of IC 410 is a small faint emission nebula called IC 417.  Embedded within IC 410 is the open star cluster designated as NGC 1893, and if you look closely you will see this as a tight grouping of stars within the nebula itself.  These nebulae are estimated to be about 1500 light years away and take up a portion of the sky that is larger than the apparent size of the full moon.

IC 410, including Open Star Cluster NGC 1893
IC 410, including Open Star Cluster NGC 1893

IC 405 was first discovered by J.M. Schaeberle in 1892.  The 5.8 magnitude star contained within the “nose” of IC 405 (the long nebula to the right in this image) is believed to be a hot young runaway star that was ejected from the Orion Nebula (located in the sword of Orion the Hunter Constellation) about 2.7 million years ago. This star, named AE Aurigae, is what powers and illuminates this nebula. (Source: Jerry Lodriguss)

Aurigae AE “The Flaming Star” pictured at center.

Due to a really terrible stretch of weather with cloudy skies for the last several weeks, I have been unable to get out and photograph the night sky.  Instead, I have been utilizing the time to learn more advanced processing techniques and decided to re-visit the images of this nebula that I took back on April 17th.  The resulting image is the culmination of this learning process and the combination of 38 one minute exposures for a total of 38 minutes of exposure.  I sure am glad that I did not actually delete all of these frames last month during my evening of frustration!

One thing is for sure, long exposures for deep sky astrophotography is king.  Despite the results and my ability to resolve some detail here with 38 minutes of exposure, I feel the need to re-visit this object when it comes around again next winter and add more exposure time to the final combined image.  At 38 minutes I am just barely beginning to get into the detail contained at this location in the sky.  With much more exposure time, to the tune of several hours, I believe the details could be incredible.  For now, I will simply need to settle for this, and prepare myself for next winter.

Canon Rebel T5i (Modified), Canon 70-200mm IS II at 160mm , f2.8, 60 second exposures (38 for a total of 38 minutes exposure), ISO 1600, Astrotrac, ImagesPlus, Photoshop, Lightroom.  60 Light Frames, Dark and Bias Frames Taken.





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