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The Soul Nebula in Bi-Color Astrophotography

Updated: May 17, 2023

Westerhout 5 is a large nebula that can be found 7,500 light-years away in Cassiopeia. It is rich in Hydrogen Alpha and is often photographed with its neighbor, the Heart Nebula.

Object Designation: IC 1848, Westerhout 5

Also known as: The Soul Nebula

Constellation: Cassiopeia

Object Type: Emission Nebula

Distance: 6,500 light-years away

Magnitude: 6.5

Discovered in: 1787

The Bubble Nebula NGC 7635 taken by the Hubble Space Telescope NASA

The infrared photo on the right was taken by NASA's WISE Telescope in 2010.

The designation IC1848 actually refers to the open cluster of stars visible in front of the nebula. Most of the gases in the object are known as Westerhout 5.


The Soul Nebula with the QHY600M and SVX130

November 2021, from the city

The image below was captured from our Bortle 9 backyard in Las Vegas. We of course had no choice but to use narrowband filters to combat the extreme light pollution.

The Soul Nebula is a great target for bi-color combination, but we decided to use all three filters anyway and so imaged it in Hydrogen Alpha, Sulfur II, and Oxygen III.

We are very pleased with the end result, especially because most of the HA was taken during an almost-full moon so we were a bit afraid to get gradients or vignetting from it.

IC 1848 with the QHY600M

The Soul Nebula in narrowband from the city


Camera: QHY600M

Telescope: Stellarvue SVX130

Mount: 10Micron GM1000 HPS

Accessories: Moonlite Nitecrawler focuser / Pegasus Astro Ultimate Powerbox

Processing: PixInsight


Total Exposure Time: 34 hours

Exposure Time per frame: 10 minutes

Gain: 56

⚠️ Want to practice processing? ⚠️

The files for this image are available in the Raw Data folder for people who support us on Patreon!


Heart & Soul - Two Nebulae Often Imaged Together

The Heart & Soul Nebula in Infrared - NASA
The Heart & Soul Nebula in Infrared - NASA

The Soul Nebula lies very close to the Heart Nebula. In long exposure images, some of the gases from each object can actually be seen interacting!

The two nebulae are often captured together with either a small telescope or a camera lens. They both share similar characteristics, such as color, gas composition, and size.

On the right is a mosaic picture taken with NASA's WISE telescope.

We photographed the Heart Nebula years ago with our monochrome camera and small refractor. It turned out really beautiful and we love the bright orange and blue colors present in the object when combining the channels into the Hubble Palette (SHO).

The gear used to capture this image is the ZWO ASI 1600MM-Pro CMOS camera and the Meade 70mm APO telescope. Make sure to click on the image to open our full page about imaging the Heart Nebula!

The one shown here is the starless version. All of the stars were removed using Starnet on PixInsight. We really love how impressive the nebula looks this way.

We have not yet taken the time to capture both of these together, but we plan to! Our current wide-field telescope

An easy way to frame both just right is by using a full-frame camera on a small refractor like the Askar FRA 300 Pro.


Locating IC 1848

How to find the Bubble Nebula and open cluster Messier 52 in the night sky, map

The Soul Nebula is located in the constellation Cassiopeia.

You can easily find this object by first recognizing the "W" shape of the constellation. Spot the left star in the "W" and look in the large area on the left of that star.

The Soul Nebula is extremely close to another large emission nebula: the Heart Nebula. Although slightly larger, the Heart Nebula is fainter and more difficult to spot than the soul. The Soul Nebula can be seen under Bortle 3 or better skies using a pair of 10x70 or wider binoculars. It can also help to use a narrowband filter when looking for the object as it as a low surface brightness.

It is difficult to spot it using a telescope, especially a large one, because of how massive both the Heart and Soul Nebulae are. You could likely stumble upon their respective open clusters of stars, but the hydrogen alpha gases might be too faint for your eyes.


Cool Facts

  • Discovered in 1787

  • Sometimes called the Embryo Nebula

  • Home to the Radio Source W5


Single Shot & Processing of the Soul Nebula

We usually use our three narrowband filters to capture emission nebulae: Ha, SII, and OIII. However, some objects, like the Soul Nebula, the Helix Nebula, or the Rosette Nebula to name a few, lack strong SII signal and so it is not very worth it to spend hours or full nights adding SII data.

This is why we first started imaging the Soul Nebula using only our Hydrogen Alpha and Oxygen III filters. You can learn how to easily combine bi-color data by reading our short tutorial. However... we had more clear nights than expected and so decided to add SII at the last minute! We spent two nights with the SII filter. As you can see on the single shot below (center), SII is very weak as expected.

Below you can see what the single 10-minute frames looked like for each filter.

The Soul Nebula, single 10-minute images for HA, SII, and OIII

Obviously, the HA data, visible on the left, was much more prominent. The problem with the OIII filter is also that when captured from the city, light pollution easily washes out most of the data.

Processing the Soul Nebula was super fun! The colors easily show up bright and beautiful, and having 30+ hours on that target helps combat most of the noise.


Final Thoughts

IC 1848 (or rather Westerhout 5) is a bright, large, and colorful nebula that stays high in the sky for several months in a row. It is a great target for beginners, and can be captured with any type of equipment. The Soul Nebula looks great in both broadband and narrowband, and can be captured alongside the Heart Nebula if using a wide instrument.

Have you captured the Soul Nebula? Attach your image in the comments and let us know your acquisition details!

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Clear Skies,

Galactic Hunter



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Stefan Dietmann
Stefan Dietmann
Dec 15, 2021

Thank you very much guys, I really enjoyed reading this because my skies were gray and rainy for 2 months straight now.


Replying to

Thank you so much Stefan! Hopefully you'll get some clear skies soon! 🤞

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