The emission nebula Messier 16 is one of the most iconic deep sky objects in the night sky, and probably the most popular astrophotography targets in the hot Summer months for both beginner and advanced amateur astrophotographers. It is a beautiful star-forming region with lots of Hydrogen gases in the constellation Serpens.
Object Designation: M16, NGC6611, Sh2-49
Also known as: The Eagle Nebula, The Star Queen Nebula
Object Type: Emission Nebula
Distance: 5,700 light-years away
Discovery: Jean-Philippe Loys de Chéseaux in 1745
Check out our guide of the 15 best deep sky objects to photograph in Summer for some inspiration on what to capture besides M16.
The Pillars of Creation is the most famous image taken by the Hubble telescope. I remember seeing the 1995 original photo in a magazine when I was younger, and it was probably at that time that I began to love astronomy.
Back when we started Astrophotography, without even having a telescope, M16 was very well positioned in the September night sky, but we couldn't capture it with our little tripod and DSLR. After waiting almost a year for our Earth to complete its turn around our sun again, M16 finally re-appeared.
Below you will find all our attempts at imaging the Eagle Nebula. Our first image was taken in July 2016 with our stock DSLR camera. Our most recent attempt was done in the Summer of 2023 and was our first light with a RASA 8!
The Eagle Nebula with a RASA 8 Telescope and No Filters
In the Summer of 2023, we decided to switch our telescope at Utah Desert Remote Observatories from the SVX130 refractor, to the Celestron RASA 8. We did this because we were filming the fourth season of the Galactic Course which covers everything about remote astrophotography!
We spent a total of 15 hours imaging the Eagle Nebula as our first target with this new telescope. Because of how fast it is (f/2), we weren't sure what exposure time to go with and so did a mix of 60, 300, and 600-second exposures.
The result turned out beautiful, even without any filters! This target and the region surrounding it looks great in "true-color", and the Hydrogen Alpha gas had no issue showing itself from the Bortle 2 skies.
Below you can see two versions, one with stars, and one starless achieved with StarXTerminator. Click the image for the high-resolution version!
Camera: ZWO ASI2600MC
Telescope: Celestron RASA 8
Mount: 10Micron GM1000 HPS
Guiding: ZWO ASI 290MM Mini
Processing: Pixinsight, with R-C Astro plugins
Total Exposure Time: 15 hours
Exposure Time per frame: 1, 5, and 10 minutes
Combining Data on M16 from Three Astrophotography Setups
Shortly after being done with our image of the Eagle Nebula, we decided to combine our data with two other sets of data taken by two friends here in Vegas, Tim (Link to Astrobin) and Patrick (Link to Astrobin). We did this as a fun test to see what we could expect from 24 hours of data versus 8 hours, and the result turned out pretty good!
It is not as impressive as we anticipated though, but this is mostly because we use different cameras and telescopes and so the image scale for each data did not match at all.
You can see Tim and Patrick's rendition of the data on their Astrobin.
Imaging the Eagle Nebula with the ZWO ASI1600MM in Narrowband
May 15, 2020
Four years after photographing M16 with our stock DSLR camera, we decided to revisit this beautiful object with our cooled mono camera. We debated whether we should use the same telescope, our 8" Astrograph, or our small refractor instead. We went with the small refractor because we wanted a wide field of view to capture as much gas around the nebula as possible.
Make sure to watch Episode 14 of Galactic Hunter to see how we imaged this object from beginning to end!
Join our Patreon page for our raw data of dozens of deep-sky objects.
Camera: ZWO ASI 1600MM
Telescope: Meade 70mm APO
Mount: Orion Atlas EQ-G
Guiding: ZWO ASI 290MM Mini
Acquisition: ZWO ASIAIR
Total Exposure Time: 8 hours
Exposure Time per frame: 5 minutes
Filters: Ha / Sii / Oiii
Imaging the Eagle Nebula with an unmodified DSLR Camera
July 7, 2016
The image below was taken with our old but trusty Canon T3i camera. Our very first DSLR camera that we purchased on eBay for super cheap! Although the difference between the result below and the one from 2020 is huge, we were very proud of this image back then and were so happy to have captured the Pillars of Creation.
Camera: Canon t3i
Telescope: 8" Astrograph
Mount: Atlas EQ-G
Total Exposure Time: 3.45 hours
Exposure Time per frame: 3 minutes
69 lights - 21 Darks - 21 Bias
The Pillars of Creation Pictures
A cropped version of our DSLR image from 2016.
You can see the Pillars of Creations in the center, the beak of the Eagle above, and the faint spanned wings on its sides.
As you can see, the iconic Pillars of Creation are easily photographed by amateur photographers even with a cheap DSLR camera and no filter.