Barnard's Loop - Within the Orion Molecular Cloud Complex

Updated: Apr 28, 2020

  • Featured on All About Space Magazine Issue 84 (p91)

  • Featured on Amateur Astrophotography Magazine - Issue 61

Barnard’s Loop is an emission nebula that originated from a supernova about 2 million years ago, and it is the star of Episode 8 of Galactic Hunter!

The key to photographing this target is to spend as much time as possible getting the red colors from the Loop, as those are really difficult to capture without filters or a modified camera.

The photo below is the result of 7.2 hours of total exposure at 50mm f/4 with our unmodified DSLR camera and our 50mm lens.

3.6 hours were spent on capturing RGB data, and we used a 12nm Ha filter for the other 3.6 hours to capture the faint red gases.


Camera: Canon 7D Mark II

Lens: Canon EF 50mm f/1.8 STM Lens

Mount: Atlas EQ-G motorized Mount

Other: Astronomik DSLR Ha Clip-On filter

Processing: Pixinsight


Total Exposure Time: 7.2 hours

RGB Exposure Time: 3.6 hours

Hydrogen Alpha Exposure Time: 3.6 hours

Exposure Time per frame: 6 minutes

73 lights, calibrated with Darks and Bias

ISO: 800

Want to hang this photo in your home? Check out our prints!

Iconic Objects within the Orion Molecular Cloud Complex

Photographing Barnard's Loop pretty much assures you to also capture several of the nebulae within the Orion Molecular Cloud Complex in the frame. Below are the most iconic objects you can see from our image.

The Great Orion Nebula (M42), as well as M43 and the Running Man Nebula, can be seen when photographing Barnard's Loop. Longer exposures will allow you to reveal the outer gases expanding from all around the nebula!

The Horsehead Nebula (Barnard 33, with the pink/red gases of IC 434 behind it) looks awesome in widefield because all the gases of IC 434 can be seen without being cut off by the frame of your camera!

The Flame Nebula (NGC 2024) is right next to the horse! This nebula obviously got its name due to its shape.

NGC 2023 is a small blue reflection nebula visible just on the bottom left of the horse.

M78 is also visible, also it can easily be washed up by the surrounded gases and the noise pixels, but being careful during the processing will let you have a beautiful Messier 78 in your image, just to the bottom left of IC 434.

Click on the image to see our photo of M78 taken with our telescope!

Another famous object: Betelgeuse!

Betelgeuse is a red supergiant star and the 2nd brightest star in the Orion constellation (and 9th in the entire night sky).

It is mostly famous because it is thought to explode into a supernova any second now (it probably already did but the light from the explosion hasn't reached us yet!)

The Witch Head Nebula (IC 2118) is not located in Orion, but in the constellation of Eridanus.

It will still appear in your image though, just above the very bright star Rigel (visible on top right of our main photo). Take not that it is a little tricky to bring out the faint gases of the witch during processing.

Locating Barnard's Loop

Through photographs, the Loop appears as a bright, red semi-circle with the Orion nebula, and Horsehead and Flame nebulae in its center. From a wide point of view, the nebula looks like a big smile in the sky. Sadly, this is not the case visually.

Barnard’s Loop is too faint to be seen with the naked eye. Binoculars and any size telescopes will not reveal much except for a very faint gas in the entire view. It is really difficult to even know if you are looking at the nebula through a telescope because there is no way to compare the gas you see with the actual darkness of space due to its size.

Finding the nebula is extremely easy, it is located in the Orion constellation and you can imagine it just under M42, M78 and IC 434.

Cool Facts
  • Discovered in 1895 with long duration film exposures

  • Origin of the loop is still unknown

  • Between 520 and 1440 light-years away


Barnard's Loop was the winner of your votes at the end of Episode 7, and so was our main focus on Episode 8! Our initial goal was to spend 4 hours on it, with our unmodified Canon 7D Mk II, and compare the result with our previous attempt at Barnard's Loop, taken with our old Canon t3i (see below).


Camera: Canon T3i (600D)

Lens: Canon 50mm f/1.8

Mount: iOptron Skytracker

Processing: Pixinsight


Total Exposure Time: 4 hours

ISO: 800

We show the comparison in our Episode, but we wanted to go even further, and purchase a 12nm clip-on Ha filter for our 7D MK II. It was our very first time trying this on so we were really impatient to see the results. We went back to our imaging spot and spent 3.6 hours (the same amount of time as RGB) on Barnard's Loop with the Ha filter on.

Here is what you can expect from a single shot with the filter on, it does not look promising at all an is full on noise!

All you can see is a red Betelgeuse and a red blob instead of M42... But no worries, that is normal and the green and blue pixels will cancel each other out during processing!

Below is our stacked image of 36 Ha frames. Now it starts to look like something, what a relief!

Single Shot & Processing of Barnard's Loop

We had a bit of trouble to combine our Ha data with our RGB data on PixInsight, as we did not find all the information in one place online. We decided to make a short tutorial video about it which you can watch below!

What does a 6-minute single shot of Barnard's Loop look like?

You can clearly see the Orion Nebula, Betelgeuse, Rigel, IC 434, a tiny bit of the loop, and not much else, besides the other main stars in Orion including those from Orion's Belt. All in all, the single shots looked pretty promising when checking them on our camera LCD screen.

Here is something interesting you might come across when processing this object.

This is a mask used during the ACDNR processing step of Barnard's Loop in PixInsight.

It looks like a giant smiley face in space! Or a creepy clown staring at us...

You can get our full PixInsight workflow as a PDF "follow along" file HERE.

Galactic Hunter Episode #8 - Barnard's Loop

As we mentioned earlier, Episode 8 was all about Barnard's Loop! Watch our video below to learn more about the target and see how we captured it from A to Z!

Episode 8 of Galactic hunter

Final Thoughts

Barnard's Loop, or the Orion Molecular Cloud Complex all together, makes for a very impressive image if done well. The processing is not as easy as single nebulae/galaxies, and a lot of exposure time is required to be able to see the loop and the faint gases all over. A Ha filter is recommended, as it makes quite a big difference in the end!

If you would like to get our photo of Barnard's Loop as a print, or other, you can see some options HERE.

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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#BarnardsLoop #Canon #DSLR #widefield #50mm #Orion #M42 #IC2118 #IC434 #M78

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