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M11 - The Wild Duck Cluster | Astrophotography Tips & Pictures

Updated: Sep 21, 2023


M11, also known as the Wild Duck Cluster, is an open cluster in the constellation

Scutum. It got its name because the brightest stars in the cluster seem to form a triangle resembling a flock of ducks flying. M11 is one of the most compact and star-rich clusters out there, with about 2,900 stars. In this post, you will find information, images, and tips to photograph Messier 11.



Object Designation: M11, NGC 6705

Also known as: The Wild Duck Cluster

Constellation: Scutum

Object Type: Open Cluster

Distance: 6,120 light-years away

Magnitude: 5.8

Discovery: Gottfried Kirch in 1681



The M11 cluster is easy to capture for beginner astrophotographers, and makes a great Messier target that does not require many hours of integration time to look nice. M11 is best observed during the Summer months.


 

Messier 11 and Messier 26 Mosaic Astrophotography

August 2023


Six years after my last capture of M11, it was time to image it again but with better equipment and refined skills!


After putting together a 4-panel mosaic of Rho Ophiuchi, I couldn't wait to do another mosaic but couldn't decide on the next target. I settled on both M11 and M26 as they were close to each other and sinking lower in the sky each passing day.


I used my gear at Utah Desert Remote Observatories and went for a 2-panel mosaic. I kept it simple, spending just 4 hours on each panel, making it a total of 8 hours of integration time. The telescope's fast focal ratio (f/2) and the observatory's dark Bortle 2 skies were a big help!


The result turned out pretty awesome. You can see lots of those dark Milky Way clouds in the background. Don't forget to check out the full-resolution image by clicking on the picture below!


M11 and M26 mosaic astrophotography

GEAR USED:

Camera: ZWO ASI2600MC

Telescope: Celestron RASA 8

Mount: 10Micron GM1000 HPS

Processing: Pixinsight, with R-C Astro plugins. Final touches in Skylum Luminar Neo

ACQUISITION DETAILS:

Total Exposure Time: 8 hours

Exposure Time per frame: 5 minutes

Filters: N/A

Gain: 100


 

Messier 11 with a DSLR Camera and Reflector Telescope

August 2017


The image below is what you can expect when photographing the Wild Duck Cluster with a beginner 8” reflector telescope and an old DSLR camera. The exposure time was just 2 hours. Notice that you can see dark lanes in several spots around the cluster.


This is an image taken from a Bortle 4 site in the desert, and with not much experience processing clusters. Back then, I made the background way too dark which completely killed any hope of seeing faint dust lanes.

M11 astrophotography with DSLR camera

GEAR USED:

Processing: Pixinsight

ACQUISITION DETAILS:

Total Exposure Time: 2.5 hours

Exposure Time per frame: 6 minutes

25 lights - 15 Darks - 15 Bias

ISO: 400

 

How to Locate the Wild Duck Cluster

How to find the M11 cluster in the sky

At a distance of 6,200 light-years, Messier 11 is the farthest open cluster in the Messier catalog that can be seen with the naked eye.


The Wild Duck cluster is also a good target with binoculars and will appear as a bright but fuzzy diamond. You might be able to distinguish the triangle, or V-shape of the cluster through a telescope.


M11 is located in the constellation of Scutum, not too far from another Messier cluster, M26. If you are having trouble finding Scutum, you can also spot the Wild Duck Cluster above the Teapot asterism from the Sagittarius constellation.


M11 and M26 astrophotography mosaic annotated
An annotated version of our mosaic image

 

Messier 11 Cluster Information


Let's learn more about the 11th object in Charles Messier's catalog, the Wild Duck Cluster.


Gottfried Kirch discovered Messier 11
Gottfried Kirch

M11 was discovered by Gottfried Kirch, a German astronomer in 1681.

M11 is one of the most compact and massive known open clusters in the sky. It has been highly studied over the years and is believed to be about 316 million years old.


Out of the 26 open clusters from the Messier catalog, Messier 11 is the farthest one that can be seen with the naked eye. Its brightest star has a visual magnitude of 8, while a total of 870 members have at least a magnitude of 16.5.



The First Picture of M11


The first ever picture of Messier 11 was taken 215 years after its discovery.


Isaac Roberts, who was the first to capture several deep sky objects using photography, targetted M11 on August 10, 1896 using his 20-inch reflector telescope, and took the picture you see below. The total exposure time was 90 minutes.


The first picture ever taken of M11 astrophotography

Messier 11 by NASA and the Hubble Space Telescope


On October 19, 2017, NASA revealed this image of Messier 11 taken by the Hubble Space Telescope. It shows a close-up view of a small section of the object, where we can really see how loose the stars are in this open cluster.


This image was made using data at both visible and ultraviolet wavelengths. The stars in the M11 cluster formed about 250 million years ago. The bright blue stars are the youngest members of the cluster.

M11 by the Hubble Space Telescope


Cool Facts about M11

  • One of the most populated clusters known

  • About 250 million years old

  • Discovered in 1733


Star cluster astrophotography: Learn about the different types of star clusters.

 

How to Process the Wild Duck Cluster


Messier 11 astrophotography

Processing M11 is not very difficult. You really need to keep your focus on those hundreds of stars so that you don't over-process them. Also make sure to keep the space behind contrasted compared to the cluster, but not too dark or it will look unrealistic.



wild duck cluster astrophotography

One mistake this target taught us:


Do NOT take very long exposures (we did 6 minutes for each photo) on clusters, the stars are a little bit too exposed and would have been neater at 3 minutes or even under.


As for our mosaic image, it went much smoother thanks to the new skills acquired over the years. If you want to learn how to create mosaics in PixInsight, be sure to read/watch our guide on Mosaics using PixInsight!


 

Messier 11 FAQ


  • What is Messier 11?

Messier 11 is an open star cluster also known as the Wild Duck Cluster as it looks like a flock of ducks flying in a "V" formation.


  • In which constellation is Messier 11 located?

Messier 11 can be found in the Scutum constellation.


  • How large is Messier 11?

M11 has a radius of about 95 light-years, which is very large for an open cluster!


  • How far is M11?

Messier 11 is located about 6,120 light-years away from Earth.


  • When was the first-ever photograph of Messier 11 taken?

The first known astrophotograph of M11 was taken on August 10th, 1896 by Isaac Roberts.


  • How long should my exposure time be when photographing M26?

Any exposure time will work. If your guiding is great, you can go up to 10 minutes and be just fine. This will get you some nice signal in the background. Reduce the exposure time if you want to be safe in case of wind gusts or guiding errors.


  • Should I use a filter to image M11?

M11 is a broadband target and is a great target for DSLR / OSC cameras without filters. We did not use any filters for our image.


  • What equipment do I need to photograph the M11 Cluster?

A telescope with a medium to long focal length will work well, for example the Askar FRA600!



 

Final Thoughts


Messier 11 is a good star cluster to photograph for any amateur astrophotographer. It is not the most impressive, but if you are new to clusters, we recommend you try it before attempting bigger/busier ones such as M13.


The Milky Way was photographed while our telescope was busy imaging M11

wild duck cluster astrophotography

Clear Skies,

Galactic Hunter

 

the astrophotographer's guidebook

Description: Discover 60 Deep Sky Objects that will considerably improve your Imaging and Processing skills! Whether you are a beginner, intermediate, or advanced astrophotographer, this detailed book of the best deep-sky objects will serve as a personal guide for years to come! Discover which star clusters, nebulae, and galaxies are the easiest and most impressive to photograph for each season. Learn how to find each object in the night sky, and read our recommendations on imaging them in a quick and comprehensive way. Each target in this guide contains our advice on imaging, photos of expected results, and a useful information table. We've also included a few cool facts about each target, a map to find it in the night sky, and more!

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