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IC 1396 - The Elephant's Trunk Nebula from the backyard

Updated: May 18, 2023

The Elephant's Trunk Nebula is a small part of the much larger IC 1396 emission nebula located in Cepheus. The Elephant's Trunk itself is designated as IC 1396A and can be found on the Western side of the main object.

Object Designation: IC1396

Also known as: The Elephant's Trunk Nebula

Constellation: Cepheus

Object Type: Emission Nebula

Distance: 2,400 light-years away

Magnitude: 5.6

Discovered in: 1893

The Elephant's Trunk Nebula narrowband small telescope

Using a wide field telescope like the Meade 70mm APO (read our review!), we were able to image the entire nebula around the Elephant's Trunk. It was a pretty tight fit but the framing was just right! Using a larger instrument is preferred if you wish to really focus on the Trunk part only.

The image on the left is a crop on the Elephant's Trunk from our full image. Our photograph was taken using narrowband filters and combined into the Hubble Palette (more info on that later).

You can see just how much detail is visible in the Elephant's Trunk even wide field. It looks very nice against the bright blue background.

The Elephant's Trunk Nebula from our Bortle 9 backyard in narrowband

IC 1318 Astrophotography in narrowband using the Meade 70mm APO and the ZWO ASI 1600MM


Telescope: Meade 70mm APO

Acquisition: ZWO ASIAir Pro

Processing: Pixinsight


Total Exposure Time: 45 hours and 15 minutes

Exposure Time per frame: 5 minutes

Filters: Ha (252)/Sii (139)/Oiii (152)

Gain: 139


How to find the Elephant's Trunk Nebula?

How to find the Elephant's Trunk Nebula IC 1396 in Cepheus, constellation map

With a magnitude of 3.5, IC 1396 can be seen with the naked eye in very dark skies, and will appear as a gray, very faint blurry patch when looking at it with averted vision.

This huge emission nebula is located in the constellation Cepheus, and can easily be found by looking for one of its stars: Mu Cephei, or: “Hershel’s Garnet Star”.

This is easily done, as Mu Cephei is one of the largest and reddest-looking star in the Northern Hemisphere.

Using the map above, Mu Cephei, and therefore IC 1396 itself, can be found a little bit Southwest of the bright star Alderamin. Spotting a luminous red target with your naked eye should not be a problem when looking up to Cepheus.


Cool Facts about the Elephant's Trunk Nebula

  • The Trunk is over 20 light-years long

  • IC 1396A is the designation for the Elephant’s Trunk

  • Surrounded by interstellar dust lanes


Processing of the Elephant's Trunk Nebula

Processing IC 1396 was a pain because our Oxygen data suffers from a ton of light leaks. Besides that, it was really fun and playing with the different blues and yellows was interesting. Below is our first attempt at this image, processed about mid-way through our plan (26 hours out of our current 45+).

This was a pretty pleasing result and we almost wanted to call it a day and move to a different target. After several days of staring at it though, we did not like how much noise was in the image and so decided to add an extra 20 hours to it, which you can see at the very top of this post.

IC 1396 - 26 hours of exposure
IC 1396 - 26 hours of exposure

What did each narrowband channel look like?

Below you can see what each stacked frames looks like for the three narrowband channels. We used the following filters to capture IC 1396:

  • Hydrogen Alpha (left)

  • Sulfur II (center)

  • Oxygen III (right)

Our Oxygen data looked pretty terrible. I wish I used that filter from the desert.


Final Thoughts

We're getting pretty good at doing 40+ hours of exposure on single targets! It's crazy to think that we used to only do 3-4 hours max per target in the past.

The Elephant's Trunk Nebula was a tight fit in our frame but a great object to photograph!

Have you captured the Elephant's Trunk Nebula? Attach your image in the comments and let us know your acquisition details!

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

Clear Skies,

Galactic Hunter





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