Updated: May 25
IC 2944 is a large and colorful deep-sky object located in the southern constellation Centaurus. It is associated with both an open cluster and an emission nebula. The Running Chicken Nebula is a great target for beginner astrophotographers who live in the southern part of the world.
Object Designation: IC 2944
Also known as: Running Chicken Nebula, Lambda Centauri Nebula
Object Type: Open Cluster with Emission Nebula
Distance: 6,500 light-years away
Discovery: 1834 by John Herschel
Spring is Galaxy Season, yet we are nebula lovers, so we went ahead and got data from Telescope Live on a beautiful nebula to process. In this post, you will learn more about the Running Chicken Nebula and see what I was able to get as a result of processing data on PixInsight.
Running Chicken Nebula Narrowband Astrophotography
The Running Chicken Nebula is a southern object, so we cannot image it from our location in Las Vegas. Just like a few other targets that are impossible to get from the northern hemisphere (Statue of Liberty Nebula, NGC 1365, Chamaeleon Cloud ), we decided to get the dataset from Telescope Live.
The data was captured with a high-quality setup in Chile, comprised of a Planewave CDK24 and CCD camera. CCD cameras are now considered to be dinosaurs, so they have been replaced by more recent CMOS cameras. Despite the camera being old, this particular set of data turned out really clean, and was a pleasure to process.
The picture below totals 15 hours and 20 minutes of exposure time and was processed using PixInsight. The large telescope gave a nice close-up view of the object.
Want to process your images following our own workflow? Get our PixInsight Processing Guide!
Camera: FLI Proline PL9000
Telescope: PlaneWave 24" f/6.5 CDK
Mount: Mathis MI-1000/1250 with absolute encoders
Processing: Pixinsight, with RC-Astro plugins
Total Exposure Time: 15 hours and 20 minutes
Exposure Time per frame: 5 minutes
How to find the Running Chicken Nebula in the Sky?
IC 2944 can be found in one of the largest constellations in the sky, Centaurus. It lies at a distance of about 6,500 light-years from Earth. The best time to observe IC 2944 is during the Southern Hemisphere's summer months, when it is visible at its highest point in the sky. To view or capture this target, you will need to be in a location in the south, as it does not rise high enough in the northern sky.
You can see the object circled on the map below.
Other popular deep sky objects near the Lambda Centauri Nebula include:
NGC 3766 (The Pearl Cluster)
IC 2602 (The Southern Pleiades)
Eta Carinae Nebula
NGC 3532 (Open Cluster)
To locate IC 2944, first find the bright star Alpha Centauri, which happens to be the closest star system to our own Solar System. From there, look for the group of stars that form the Southern Cross, which is a famous asterism in the Southern Hemisphere. IC 2944 is located to the northwest of the Southern Cross, about halfway between there and the bright star Beta Centauri.
The Running Chicken Nebula by NASA and ESO
IC 2944 by the Very Large Telescope (VLT)
In 2013, ESO released a magnificent image of IC 2944, taken by the Very Large Telescope. They pointed the VLT to the Running Chicken Nebula in order to celebrate its 15th birthday, and what a great pick it was!
The image looks incredible, with bright red gasses, bright blue stars, and several dark Bok globules visible in the frame.
At the time of its release, this was the clearest image of IC 2944 ever taken from a ground telescope. Just look at how clean it is!
IC 2944 by the Hubble Space Telescope (HST)
This image captured by the Hubble Space Telescope was captured in 1999 and 2001, and released in 2002.
It shows dense, opaque dust clouds, known as "Bok globules", seen against nearby bright stars in the heart of IC 2944. The globules in IC 2944 were discovered by astronomer A.D. Thackeray in 1950, but Bok globules in general have been known to exist since 1947 when Bart Bok discovered them for the first time.
These globules are heavily fractured and in constant motion, moving fast through space, and are likely being destroyed by the powerful ultraviolet radiation from the massive O-type stars in the surrounding gas and dust.
The image you see above was taken with the Wide Field Planetary Camera 2 on the Hubble Space Telescope and is a composite of four colors.
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Using Telescope Live to Capture Deep Sky Objects
Just like we did for some other southern objects, we used Telescope Live to obtain the data for the Running Chicken Nebula as it never rises high enough for us in the northern hemisphere! By using Telescope Live, you have the option to either remotely control a telescope and capture images of the target of your choice, or you can simply download a dataset that has already been captured by someone else, which usually is way more cost-effective.
The image we processed here was taken from Chile using a Planewave CDK24. The owners of Telescope Live sent us a coupon for you to use if you'd like to give it a try also. If you are interested, you can use the code "TL4GH" when signing up!
Do I Need Filters to Photograph the Running Chicken Nebula?
The Running Chicken Nebula really shines when imaged in narrowband using all three filters (Hydrogen Alpha, Sulfur II, and Oxygen III). You'll be able to get beautiful blue and orange colors if doing a Hubble Palette combination. On the right, you can see a starless version of our image, which makes all these gasses and colors really pop.
The Running Chicken Nebula is also a good target if you own a color camera with no filter, or a beginner setup with a DSLR/Mirrorless camera. Expect the nebula to look mostly red, as the hydrogen alpha gas (which appears red in true color) is much more obvious than the OIII and SII without filters.
Processing the Running Chicken Nebula
The Running Chicken Nebula was one of the most fun targets I processed. At this field of view, the bright and colorful gasses are all over the frame, and very simple to bring out. There are so many details visible where gasses are interacting, and several Bok globules to play with.
This was narrowband data, so I combined the three monochrome channels with a Hubble palette combination, meaning S is red, H is green, and O is blue. You can see what each master looked like below, before being combined into a color image.
Stacked results from each filter, in order H > S > O
If you want to process your images the same way I do, you can get our full step-by-step processing workflow for nebulae, HERE. Included are 20 lessons, our process icons, our raw data, and 18 walkthrough videos. We also have a beginner version available that focuses more on RGB data. The nebula guide also includes a section on how to download and process data from the James Webb Space Telescope.
Running Chicken Nebula FAQ
In which constellation is the Running Chicken Nebula located?
The Running Chicken Nebula is located in the constellation Centaurus.
How big is the Running Chicken Nebula?
The Running Chicken Nebula spans about 100 light-years across.
How far is the Running Chicken Nebula?
The Running Chicken Nebula is located around 6,500 light-years away from Earth.
How long should my exposure time be when photographing the Running Chicken Nebula?
For most nebulae, we recommend an exposure time of 600 seconds (10 minutes). In this case, Telescope Live has captured data for this object using 300-second exposures, which is also good.
Should I use a filter to image the Running Chicken Nebula?
The Running Chicken Nebula is rich in all three narrowband gasses, so using narrowband filters is best especially if imaging from the city. If you do not have a monochrome camera, you can use a dual-band filter or a hydrogen alpha filter to add to your color data. You can still capture this object without filters if imaging from a dark site.
What equipment do I need to photograph the Running Chicken Nebula?
A small telescope (300-500mm in focal length) is good to capture a wide-field view of IC 2944. A telescope with a long focal length (1000mm or more) will get you a nice close-up view of the target.
What type of nebula is the Running Chicken Nebula?
The Running Chicken Nebula is an emission nebula.
The Running Chicken Nebula is in our opinion one of the best southern nebulae for both beginner and advanced astrophotographers. It looks beautiful both wide field and in close-up, and shows bright and colorful gasses. This is also a very fun target to process and overall not difficult.
If you live in the northern hemisphere like us, you won't be able to capture this target due its position in the sky. We suggest using a company like Telescope Live to get the data, or wait until you can travel south with your equipment. You can use the code TL4GH if you would like to get a discount!
Have you captured the Running Chicken Nebula? If so, add your pic to the comments section, we'd love to see it!
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