Messier 26 - You've never seen so many stars in one photo!

Updated: Jun 22

Featured on Flickr's Explore Page - May 7, 2020


Messier 26 is an open cluster in the constellation Scutum. We decided to spend just about one hour imaging this object after being done with M59/M60 and packing up for the night. We picked M26 completely at random as we often like to squeeze in and photograph a "boring cluster" as a way to end most nights. Well.. this one wasn't as "boring" as we expected!


As you can see below, the cluster itself is not that impressive, but look at all these stars! There are thousands and thousands of stars visible in this field of view, and, as we'll show you later in this post, the original stacked image looked like a photo full of noise.


M26 is best photographed in Summer. Read our guide on the 15 best Astrophotography targets for Summer if you need some inspiration about what to image next!

Messier 26



GEAR USED:

Camera: ZWO ASI 071MC

Telescope: Meade 115mm APO

Mount: Atlas EQ-G motorized Mount

Field Flattener/Focal Reducer: Meade 3" Flattener/Reducer

Guiding: ZWO ASI 290MM Mini

Acquisition: ZWO ASIAIR

Power: Pegasus Astro Pocket Powerbox

Processing: PixInsight

ACQUISITION DETAILS:

Total Exposure Time: 1 hour

Exposure Time per frame: 30 seconds

GAIN: 90



Zoomed in on M26

A crop on the cluster M26. It was discovered in 1764 by Charles Messier and quickly entered into his catalogue as the 26th entry.

Messier 26 has a magnitude of 9.5, an apparent size of 7.0 arcmin and a real size of 22 light-years in diagonal.


The cluster lies at a distance of 5,400 light-years away from Earth. It is believed that M26 would be much brighter if there was not a patch of interstellar dust between our location and the cluster's.





The equipment we used to capture M26

We imaged M26 on the same night we captured M59, M60 and their many galactic neighbors.


The equipment we used was the Meade 115mm APO telescope on our Orion Atlas EQ-G mount. Our camera was the ZWO ASI 071MC One-Shot-Color cooled camera. We did not use any filter and imaged from a Bortle 4 location.

The photo on the right shows our full equipment, ready to image and waiting for dark!


We found this telescope to be excellent for star clusters, and can't wait to capture more with it!





How to find M26?

Messier 26 rises with the Milky Way. You can find the cluster in the tiny constellation of the shield: Scutum. M26 lies very close to another cluster, M11, also nicknamed the Wild Duck Cluster as it looks like a flock of ducks flying in a V-formation.


Capturing both clusters at once is possible with a wide telescope or telephoto lens, but we suggest imaging them individually with a larger instrument as these are not extremely bright and are pretty small.


Both can be seen with the naked eye from a true dark site, and are great sights through binoculars or any telescope.


Processing of M26

We only spent one hour on M26. To be honest, we didn't really want to spend more time on it as we didn't really "care" that much about this small star cluster. We feel like the end result is fine for just one hour anyway so we are happy to have gone home at the time we did.


What surprised us the most about processing M26 was what popped up after stacking the images. As you can see below, there are stars everywhere and the entire image looks extremely messy!

120 30-sec frames on M26 stacked

For a few seconds after this appeared, I thought it was full of noise and that I did something wrong when launching the stacking process... But no! The cluster is in the center, surrounded by an insane blanket of stars. Some faint dark dust lanes are also visible here and there.


This was most likely the most difficult star cluster I ever had to process because of the number of stars and the interstellar dust lanes. Making a star mask was definitely fun though!


Final Thoughts

M26 pleasantly surprised us, we did not expect the image to turn out so rich of stars and we love it! This is also a rarely photographed cluster and we are glad we decided to image it before packing everything up. Adding a couple of hours of total exposure could probably have helped us enhance these faint dark dust lanes, but maybe we'll do that in the far future. For now, we are happy with this image!


Make sure to follow us on Facebook, Instagram, and YouTube to stay up to date with our work!

Clear Skies,

Antoine & Dalia Grelin

Galactic Hunter






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The Astrophotographer's Journal

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The Constellations Handbook

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