IC 59 and IC 63 are two reflection/emission nebulae in the constellation Cassiopeia. They are both very close to the bright star Navi (Gamma Cassiopeiae) and both nebulae can easily be photographed in the same field of view using a telescope or camera lens.
Object Designation: IC 59 & IC 63
Also known as: The Ghost of Cassiopeia, the Ghost Nebula (IC 63)
Object Type: Reflection/Emission Nebulae
Distance: 610 light-years away
Discovery: Max Wolf on December 30th, 1893
IC 59 and IC 63 are not easy targets for beginner astrophotographers. The nebulae are dark, faint, and the presence of a gigantic bright star so close to the objects can make it a bit tricky to process! On top of that, IC 59 and IC 63 are home to hydrogen alpha gasses which either require an HA/duoband filter, or dark skies to be seen. Below you will find information, tips, and our astrophotography images on IC 59 and IC 63.
IC 59 & IC 63 Astrophotography from Bortle 2 Skies Without Filters
I have been putting off imaging the Ghost of Cassiopeia for a long time because I intended to spend time on it using both broadband and Hydrogen Alpha filters. The telescope I am currently using is the RASA 8, which has a one-shot color camera attached without filters. I did not want to wait any longer and decided to image this target hoping the HA would still be visible in broadband.
Thanks to the fast f/2 optics of the Celestron RASA 8 and the Bortle 2 skies of Utah Desert Remote Observatories, I was able to easily capture the hydrogen alpha gasses present in both IC 59 and IC 63.
I spent a total of 10 hours imaging this region of the sky, and the result turned out great! I especially love the dark dust all around the field of view.
Click the image to see it in full resolution!
Camera: ZWO ASI2600MC
Telescope: Celestron RASA 8
Mount: 10Micron GM1000 HPS
Guiding: ZWO ASI 220MM Mini
Total Exposure Time: 10 hours
Exposure Time per frame: 5 minutes
Cassiopeia Wide-field Astrophotography with a DSLR Camera Lens
What do you do when you drive an hour out to the desert with your entire telescope rig, but cannot get any good images because the wind is too strong? You go with Plan B!
Plan B for me was to use my Canon Ra mirrorless camera and DSLR lens to capture a full constellation widefield. I attached the camera on my equatorial mount and pointed it at Cassiopeia, a constellation I've been wanting to shoot for a long time.
The Astronetics 3D-Printed design made it very easy to attach the camera to the mount, use autofocus, and attach the ASIAir along with a guide scope to it. Below you can see Cassiopeia outlined, with IC59 and IC63 inside the circle!
Camera: Canon Ra
Mount: Sky-Watcher EQ6-R Pro
Total Exposure Time: 3 hours
Exposure Time per frame: 3 minutes
Locating the Ghost of Cassiopeia
IC 59 and IC 63 are some of the easiest deep-sky objects to locate in the night sky. To find the pair, first look for Cassiopeia, which can easily be spotted thanks to its unmistakable "W" shape. Once you have found the constellation, simply point your camera or telescope to its bright central star, known as "Navi" or "Gamma Cassiopeiae". IC 59 and IC 63 lie just next to this star.
IC 59 and IC 63 cannot be seen with the unaided eye or binoculars even from very dark skies, but it is possible to observe the pair with a telescope. Note that IC 63 is easier to spot through an eyepiece and that IC 59 might require a larger telescope.
IC 59 and IC 63 are close to several other deep sky objects, such as:
IC 59 and IC 63 can be observed and photographed all year long as they are circumpolar if your latitude is at least 30 degrees North, but we captured ours in August. Discover more objects that are best photographed in August in this post.
Ghost of Cassiopeia Nebula Information
IC 59 and IC 63 are two interesting objects, so let's learn more about them!
The nebulae are both emission and reflection nebulae, and lie close to the bright star Gamma Cassiopeiae. The red color you see within the nebulae is hydrogen alpha, while the blue/grey is light being reflected from the bright blue star. The star is believed to be located about 3-4 light-years from the nebulae.
IC 59 and IC 63 were both discovered on December 30th 1893 by German astronomer Max Wolf when looking at the Gamma Cassiopeiae star. His friend and collaborator E.E. Barnard also discovered the two nebulae just a couple of months later in February of 1894.
Max Wolf became known for not only astronomy but also astrophotography, and died on October 3rd, 1932 at the age of 69 years old.
The First Picture of the Ghost of Cassiopeia
The very first picture of IC 59 and IC 63 was attempted on January 17th, 1890 by Isaac Roberts. Roberts pointed his 20-inch telescope at γ Cassiopeiae and imaged the region of 90 minutes.
Sadly, as you can see here, no nebulosity could be revealed despite the 20-inch aperture of the telescope and the hour and a half of exposure time. This shows how faint these objects are and how difficult it is to capture when compared to other more popular targets. If you did not know, Isaac Roberts was the first to photograph many deep sky objects, with most of his attempts being fully successful!
The Ghost of Cassiopeia by NASA
IC 63 was captured by the Hubble Space Telescope in August 2016, and NASA revealed the processed image you see below on October 25, 2018. It is fun to see that this photograph of the Ghost of Cassiopeia was published just a few days before Halloween! 👻
NASA describes the red hues of this image as hydrogen being bombarded with ultraviolet radiation from the blue-giant star Gamma Cassiopeiae (off frame). The blue color is light being reflected off of the nebula’s dust.
Also known as "Navi" or "γ Cassiopeiae", Gamma Cassiopeiae is 19 times more massive than our sun, and 65,000 times brighter! It is a blue-white subgiant variable star 550 light-years away that spins at speeds of almost 1 million miles per hour.
Because of how fast it rotates, its brightness varies and the star looks squashed. Gamma Cassiopeiae's magnitude can go anywhere from 1.6 to 3.0. It also is surrounded by a disc full of gasses that come from the eruptions of mass from the star itself.
The name "Navi" was given to the star by American astronaut Virgil Ivan Grissom, who used his middle name (Ivan) spelled backwards to come up with a nickname for the star during a space mission.
Single Shot and Processing of IC 59 and IC 63
Below you can see what a single shot of the Ghost of Cassiopeia looks like. As you can see, the nebulae are not very visible, although we do see a faint hint of IC 63. Gamma Cassiopeiae shines very bright, and you know you're centered on your target if this star is in the center of your frame!
Processing this area of the sky was not very easy. The bright star, being so close to the faint nebulae, means you have to be careful in every step of your processing workflow not to overblow the star as you bring out the nebulosity. This is easily done once all the stars have been removed, although you will likely still have some artifacts leftover from the star removal behind the bright Navi.
Other faint gases are also present all over the image, which you have to carefully try to bring out as best as you can before adding the stars back to the image.
IC 59 and IC 63 are two great but challenging objects that are always available to Northern astrophotographers. If you are a beginner, we suggest you first practice your skills on larger and brighter objects before attempting these ones. Capturing and processing these targets is not easy, and it is best done if you use either RGB+HA filters or a color camera from a very dark sky.