M16 - The Eagle Nebula & The Pillars of Creation

Updated: Aug 28, 2020

  • Featured on Orion Telescopes & Binoculars 2016 Holiday Catalog, page 41.

  • Featured on Orion Telescopes & Binoculars "featured member" webpage.

  • Featured on The Astrophotographer's Guidebook.

Get our raw data of M16 for free and share your results on Instagram with the hashtag #GalacticHunterM16 and we might add your image here!

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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 gas in the constellation Serpens.

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 on 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 2020 and was the focus of the 14th Episode of Galactic Hunter!

Combining data from three astrophotography setups

June 2020

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 wether we should use the same telescope, the Orion 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!


Camera: ZWO ASI 1600MM

Telescope: Meade 70mm APO

Mount: Orion Atlas EQ-G

Guiding: ZWO ASI 290MM Mini

Acquisition: ZWO ASIAIR

Power: Pegasus Astro Pocket Powerbox

Processing: Pixinsight


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: Orion 8" Astrograph f/3.9

Mount: Atlas EQ-G motorized Mount

Coma: Baader MPCC Coma Corrector MkIII

Guiding: Starshoot Autoguider - 50mm Guide Scope

Processing: Pixinsight


Total Exposure Time: 3.45 hours

Exposure Time per frame: 3 minutes

69 lights - 21 Darks - 21 Bias

ISO: 400

The Pillars of Creation

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.

Here is Hubble's version of the pillars of Creation.

The only way to get a result that close, using amateur gear, is with a cooled monochrome astrophotography camera with narrowband filters and combine the channels into the "Hubble palette".

Using an OSC camera and a narrowband filter is also possible.

In this image from 2020, the Pillars of Creation are much more visible and the colors match Hubble's version, thanks to the narrowband filters used and the Hubble Palette combination (SHO).

In order to get the same colors as Hubble, we simply matched Sulfur to Red, Hydrogen Alpha to Green and Oxygen to Blue!

How to find the Eagle Nebula

M16 can be found in the tail of the Serpens constellation, near Scutum. It lies about 2.5 degrees west of the bright star Gamma Scuti.

The Eagle nebula is close enough to M17, the Omega Nebula, that they can both be seen in the same field of view when using binoculars. M16 is not that impressive through binoculars, the cluster of stars will easily be seen, but the gases forming the nebulosity will be far from obvious.

The Eagle is best seen through low powered telescopes, such as 4” or 6”. As for the famous Pillars of Creations, those can only be seen through telescopes with an aperture of at least 12”.

Cool Facts
  • Discovered in 1745. and thought to be a star cluster

  • Made famous by the HST in 1995

  • Tallest Pillar of Creation is 4 light-years high

Single Shot & Processing of the Eagle Nebula

M16 is not too difficult to process. It is actually easy as long as you don't get too greedy when trying to show the fainter gases in the wings of the Eagle. You can see the cluster in the nebula without any issue and also the star forming region in the Pillars of Creation. Here is what a single shot looks like with our t3i and 3 minutes of exposure at ISO 400:

You should spend a minimum of 4 hours on this target to get a similar result as ours with an unmodified DSLR camera, but adding more time will help to capture more of the outer gases forming the wings of the Eagle. Just note that this is assuming you have similar skies as ours (Bortle 3.5).

What about with a monochrome camera? You can easily image this target from your light polluted backyard if using narrowband filters. The 3 screenshots below show what the H, S, and O channels looked like once stacked. They were taken from the desert, but M16 is very bright and we should have just imaged it from home!

The filters used are the stock ZWO filters and were mapped as:

  • Hydrogen Alpha (left) as Green

  • Sulfur II (center) as Red

  • Oxygen III (right) as Blue

Wondering what it would look like if mapping the channels differently? For fun, we decided to try the HSO palette as followed:

  • Sulfur II as Green

  • Hydrogen Alpha as Red

  • Oxygen III as Blue

And here is the result. We prefer the original SHO combination though.

For all the images in this page we followed our usual processing workflow, which you can download!

Galactic Hunter Episode 14 - The Eagle Nebula

The Eagle Nebula is the deep sky object we imaged in Episode 14! Make sure to watch the video to learn how we captured this target from start to finish and the fun things that happened in between :)

Final Thoughts

The Eagle Nebula is an awesome target to capture, but most importantly an amazing nebula to revisit as your skills and equipment become better. We are glad we re-imaged this object 4 years later as the difference is incredible!

Have you captured the Eagle Nebula? Attach your image in the comments and let us know your acquisition details! Also download our raw data (link at the beginning of this post) and tag us on Instagram with your results!

Make sure to follow us on Facebook, Instagram, and YouTube to stay up to date with our work!

Clear Skies,

Galactic Hunter

Part of: 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!

The Astrophotographer's Journal

Description: The Astrophotographer’s Journal is a portable notebook created for the purpose of recording observations, cataloguing photographs, and writing down the wonderful memories created by this hobby. This book contains more than 200 pages to memorialize your stargazing and imaging sessions, as well as a useful chart on the last pages to index exciting or important notes. Read back on the logs to see how much progress you have made through the months, the problems you overcame, and the notes taken to improve in the future. Just as the pioneers of astronomy did in their time, look up and take notes of your observations as you are the author of this star-filled journey.

The Constellations Handbook

Description: The Constellations Handbook is a logical guide to learning the 88 constellations. Learning the constellations is difficult. Remembering them is even harder. Have you ever wanted to look up to the night sky, name any pattern of stars and be able to tell their stories? This book groups the constellations in a logical order, so that the reader can easily learn them by their origin, and see how their stories interact with one another as a group. The last pages of this book include an index of all 88 constellations, each with a slot where you can write your own personal tips and tricks in order to memorize them with ease. The Constellations Handbook is not just another guide listing all the constellations from A to Z and their location, it is the perfect companion for stargazing, and a learning journey through the ages.

#Canon #Messier16 #M16 #pillarsofcreation #eagle #eaglenebula

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