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IC 1805 - The Heart Nebula | Astrophotography Tips & Pictures

Updated: May 17, 2023

IC 1805 is a huge nebula located 7,500 light-years away in the constellation Cassiopeia. It is full of Hydrogen Alpha and overall pretty faint at a magnitude of 18.3. Because of its size, the Heart Nebula is best photographed using a small telescope (480mm or smaller) so that you can fit the entire object in your frame.

Object Designation: IC1805, Sharpless 2-190

Also known as: The Heart Nebula, The Running Dog Nebula

Constellation: Cassiopeia

Object Type: Emission Nebula

Distance: 7,500 light-years away

Magnitude: 18.3

Discovered in: November 3 1787 by William Herschel

We have captured the Heart Nebula a few times over the years, and we will show you our favorite attempts in this post!


The Heart Nebula from the City with an OSC Camera and Duoband Filter

November 2022

Below is our latest photograph of the Heart Nebula. This was taken from our Bortle 9 backyard in Las Vegas using a One-Shot-Color camera, and the affordable Askar 6nm Color Magic duoband filter.

We spent several nights capturing this object from home, for a total integration time of 25 hours!

small refractor telescope in backyard
The rig used to capture this image

This was easy because as we explain in our video, our new backyard astrophotography setup is very small and portable and so we just carried the entire rig outside on each clear night.

All parts and cables stayed attached, and all we had to do was polar align the mount before launching the series of pictures.

We did not center the target on purpose, because we wanted to see if we could capture some of the gas on the side. The final image does have a couple of flaws, like slight gradients, blown-out areas in the Fish Head and core regions, and some red stars, but it overall looks great and shows exactly what we wanted it to show: all the faint gases expelling from the side of the nebula.

Heart Nebula astrophotography with color camera and narrowband filter from city

Want to process your images following our own workflow? Access our PixInsight Guide!

Camera: QHY600C

Telescope: Askar FRA500 with f/3.9 Reducer

Mount: ZWO AM5

Processing: Pixinsight, with RC-Astro plugins


Total Exposure Time: 25 hours

Exposure Time per frame: 10 minutes

Gain: 26


The Heart Nebula with a Small Telescope and Monochrome Camera

June 2019

We spent 4 hours on this object at f/5. We are usually used to imaging at f/3.9, but since there is not a huge difference between these two numbers, we felt like 4 hours was enough. We're curious as to how much more gas would have shown if we did spend more time on it. Either way, we wouldn't have been able to anyway since we were freezing our butts off in the desert and desperately wanted to go home.

IC 1805 in Narrowband with the ASI 1600MM

The Heart Nebula IC 1805 in Cassiopeia - ZWO ASI 1600MM-Pro Astrophotography the Nevada desert


Telescope: Meade 70mm APO Astrograph

Acquisition: ZWO ASIAIR

Processing: Pixinsight


Total Exposure Time: 4 hours

Exposure Time per frame: 3 minutes

Filters: Ha (2 hours) / SII (1 hour) / OIII (1 hour)

Gain: 139


How to find the Heart Nebula?

How to find the open Cluster Messier 71 in Sagitta in the night sky, map

IC 1805 can be found just to the West of Cassiopeia’s “W” shape, and lies in the Perseus arm of our Milky Way galaxy.

Because of the faint hydrogen alpha present in most of the nebula, the Heart is not really visible to the naked eye. You also should not expect to spot it with binoculars. Under very dark skies and with the correct filter, you might be able to see it with a good telescope. The cluster in the center of the nebula, on the other hand, can be observed quite easily with binoculars.

If you still cannot find it, try pointing your DSLR camera with a wide enough lens (we recommend 50mm) towards that area of the sky. A long exposure shot should reveal gas either from the Heart Nebula or the Soul Nebula located just next to it.

The best time to observe and photograph the Heart Nebula is in Fall, although it is available most of the year. It is not far from some other popular objects like the ones shown above. These are the Soul Nebula, the Double Cluster in Perseus, and the Pacman Nebula. The Heart Nebula is also close to the cluster M103, the Bubble Nebula, and the planetary nebula M76


The Heart Nebula Information

IC 1805 is approximately 7,500 light-years away from Earth. It has a radius of 100 light-years and an apparent size of 2 degrees, which spans the size of four full moons. It is made up of ionized hydrogen, ionized oxygen, sulfur gasses, and dark dust lanes. The hydrogen, oxygen, and sulfur gasses make the Heart Nebula a great narrowband target.

The Heart Nebula is a great target for beginner astrophotographers, thanks to its large size and overall brightness. Even though the nebula itself is faint, most of its gasses are easily revealed in pictures, and the area near the core where the star cluster is located is very obvious.

In the video above, we talk about the equipment we used to capture the Heart Nebula from home, and tell you more about this beautiful object as we spend 25 hours gathering data.


Melotte 15 in the Core of the Heart Nebula

With a very small telescope and full-frame camera, or DSLR lens, you might also be able to include its neighbor, the Soul Nebula. IC 1848 is very similar to the Heart Nebula as it is also large and filled with Hydrogen Alpha gas. The two of them make for a fantastic wide-field image. If you would like to get both nebulae in the same frame but do not have a good camera lens or very wide telescope, you can also achieve this by doing a 4 or 8-panel mosaic.

Melotte 15 in the Heart Nebula in narrowband Astrophotography
Melotte 15 taken by Steve R Cooper

At the core of the Heart Nebula is a bright open cluster known as Melotte 15. The stars within the cluster are 1.5 million years old, which actually is pretty young in the life of stars.

This is a great target to photograph if you do not own a small telescope. The beautiful pillar-like nebulosity looks like it is dancing with the stars that surround it.

We have not attempted to image this cluster by itself yet, but it is on our To-Do list for sure! We will update this post and add our image as soon as we photographed it.

The impressive picture visible on the left was taken by Steve R Cooper in narrowband.

Most new stars in the Heart Nebula are formed in Melotte 15, the Heart's center.


IC 1795 - The Fish Head Nebula

Melotte 15 is not the only deep sky object within the Heart Nebula that you can concentrate on if you only own a medium size or large telescope. Another beautiful target available for your setup is IC 1795, or the Fish Head Nebula! 🐠

The Fish Head Nebula Narrowband astrophotography
The Fish Head Nebula taken by Alan Pham

You can clearly see why this nebula got its name by looking at the picture on the right. The shape of the object and the division of colors show what appears to be a fish looking (or swimming?) towards the right. It even has a mouth!

Just like Melotte 15, we have not yet captured this object by itself but will update this post with our image when it is done!

People with dirty thoughts (like Dalia in a few of our videos, shame on her), might say that the Heart Nebula and Fish Head Nebula together look like a ding dong. Be careful because once you see this, you cannot unsee it.


Recommended Equipment to Photograph the Heart Nebula

As we said earlier, the Heart Nebula is huge, and you will need a small telescope if you intend to capture it in its entirety. Below is a good example of a rig we suggest using for this target and other similar nebulae of that size.

Telescope: A small refractor is perfect, like the Askar FRA300 Pro. You can also get the Askar FRA500 with the 0.7X reducer to make it wider and faster.

Camera: We used the QHY600C full-frame camera with our telescope, which was a great match. If you prefer APS-C cameras, the ZWO ASI2600MC is one of the best you can get as of 2022-2023. The monochrome versions of these cameras are also excellent choices if you don't mind also buying the filter wheel and some pricy filters!

Mount: We now exclusively use the small and portable ZWO AM5 mount. It is very easy to install and use, and we love it so far! Be sure to check out our full review of the AM5.


Do I need Filters to Capture the Heart Nebula?

The Heart Nebula is made up of Hydrogen Alpha, Oxygen, and Sulfur gasses. These gasses are better captured using narrowband filters, but can also be photographed without any specific filter.

Duoband narrowband filter

If you plan on using a DSLR/mirrorless camera or a one-shot-color camera, you can expect to get a mostly red/pinkish result after processing the Heart Nebula. If you'd like to capture more signal, especially from the city, and have a better choice of colors during processing, get yourself a duo-band filter.

There are some very good duo-narrowband filters that produce no halos, block most of the light pollution, and stay affordable. We recommend either the Askar 6nm Color Magic filter (what we used for our 2022 image) or the Optolong L-Ultimate 3nm filter.

Another thing you can do is modify your current DSLR or mirrorless camera specifically for astrophotography. This is an affordable way to make your camera much more sensitive to hydrogen alpha, without having to bother with filters just yet. You can learn all about getting your camera modified for astrophotography in our full blog post.

Below is an example of a result from a stock camera (left) vs a modded camera (right). Notice how much more gas is revealed using the modified camera! Modification done by Astrogear.

stock vs modded camera for astrophotography


The Heart Nebula Without a Telescope

The Heart Nebula can also be captured without a telescope. It is large and, on top of that, is surrounded by plenty of gasses as well as another popular deep sky object, the Soul Nebula!

Samyang 135mm f2

If you are on a budget or are just getting started in astrophotography and do not want to purchase a telescope yet, grab your DSLR camera and a lens!

For this target, we recommend a fast 85mm lens or the amazing Samyang 135mm f/2. You'll definitely want to get your hands on an affordable star tracker so that you can take long exposures. We suggest starting with 3 minutes, and increasing that number if your tracking is great.

You can also get a great image of the Heart Nebula without a sky tracker, but know that you will be limited to very short exposures, manually reframing every few minutes, and likely won't get the end result you're hoping for.

We will go ahead and take a picture of IC 1805 with a tracker and camera lens as soon as possible, and will add our image here for you to see what's possible.


The Heart & Soul - A Pair Often Imaged in Mosaics or Widefield

The Heart Nebula is located very close to the Soul Nebula, and the two are often photographed together in wide-field images. The two popular objects are so close that gases from each even seem to interact!

Mosaic picture of IC1805 and IC1848 taken with NASA's WISE telescope.
Mosaic picture of IC1805 and IC1848 taken with NASA's WISE telescope.

You can capture both of these nebulae in the same frame if using a DSLR lens and tracker, or a very small telescope with a full-frame camera. IC 1805 and IC 1848 are both very similar in composition, size, and color.


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Processing the Heart Nebula

Although the Heart Nebula might be a good bi-color target, we decided to image it with all three narrowband filters in our first attempt:

  1. Hydrogen Alpha

  2. Sulfur II

  3. Oxygen III

We combined these into the "Hubble Palette", meaning the HA channel is linked to Green, Sulfur to Red, and Oxygen to Blue.

How much data can you get with each filter?

Before the channels can be combined into one color image, the individual frames for each filter need to be stacked.

Below you can see the result of 2 hours of exposure using the Ha filter (left), one hour using the Sii filter (center), and one hour using the Oiii filter (right).

We hope this can help you visualize how much data you can expect to get when you decide to image that target! Visit our Channel Signal Index page to see how ALL deep-sky objects look through each filter.

You can get our full PixInsight PDF Guide if you'd like to process your images the same way we do.


The Heart Nebula with All the Stars Removed

In August 2020, StarNet became available natively on PixInsight (read our tutorial on how to get it working easily) and so I reprocessed our data of the Heart nebula and ran the module to remove all the stars!

This allowed me to be more aggressive in bringing out all of the faint nebulous gas in and around the object without affecting the stars. The end result is (in my opinion) absolutely gorgeous! I also saved a version with the stars added back onto the image, which you can see on our StarNet tutorial post.

Heart Nebula Astrophotography StarNet


The Heart Nebula FAQ

  • How did the Heart Nebula get its name?

IC 1805 got the nickname of "Heart Nebula" because it looks like a heart, especially in images as it is difficult to make out the shape through an eyepiece visually. As for the "Running Dog" nickname, we honestly don't see it, so please enlighten us 🐶

  • In which constellation is the Heart Nebula located?

You can find IC 1805 in the constellation Cassiopeia, not far from other popular deep-sky objects.

  • How big is the Heart Nebula?

IC 1805 has a diameter of 200 to 300 light-years and a radius of about 150 light-years. From Earth, it has an apparent size of 2 degrees, or 4 times the diameter of the moon.

  • How far is the Heart Nebula?

The Heart Nebula lies approximately 7,500 light-years away from Earth.

  • How long should my exposure time be when photographing the Heart Nebula?

To image IC 1805, we suggest taking 5 to 10-minute exposures, and spending at least 3 hours on it. If your goal is to also reveal all the fainter gas expelling from the outside of the nebula, you will likely need to spend several full nights capturing data.

  • Should I use a filter to image the Heart Nebula?

IC 1805 is an emission nebula, which makes it a great narrowband target, but that doesn't mean you cannot image it without filters! If all you have is an unmodified DSLR camera or a One-Shot-Color camera, go ahead and capture it anyway, just know that darker skies will be crucial. Using a modded camera for astrophotography is a also a good match for this target.

  • What equipment do I need to photograph the Heart Nebula?

You can capture the Heart Nebula with any small size beginner telescope. A good field of view for this object would be around 300mm of focal length. You can also attempt photographing the Heart Nebula with just a camera lens and star tracker without a telescope. One of the best lenses we can recommend for astrophotography is the Rokinon 135mm f/2.


Final Thoughts

It took us several years before deciding to image this target, but we are glad we waited! This is a perfect target for Narrowband imaging, and the image would have looked much less spectacular if we captured it with our unmodified DSLR camera.

What would we like to do next in this area of the sky? We'd love to get a closer look at the fish head nebula with a larger telescope, and image it individually. We'd also like to do the same for Melotte 15 in the center of the Heart.

Have you captured the Heart Nebula? Attach your image in the comments and let us know what you used!

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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