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M16 - The Eagle Nebula & The Pillars of Creation


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

Constellation: Serpens

Object Type: Emission Nebula

Distance: 5,700 light-years away

Magnitude: 6.4

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 Hubble NASA

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

July 2023


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!

GEAR USED:

Camera: ZWO ASI2600MC

Telescope: Celestron RASA 8

Mount: 10Micron GM1000 HPS

Processing: Pixinsight, with R-C Astro plugins


ACQUISITION DETAILS:

Total Exposure Time: 15 hours

Exposure Time per frame: 1, 5, and 10 minutes

Filters: N/A

Gain: 100


 

Combining Data on M16 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.


M16 and pillars of creation narrowband SHO astrophotography

 


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!


Messier 16 the Eagle Nebula wide field with a small refractor telescope

Join our Patreon page for our raw data of dozens of deep-sky objects.


GEAR USED:

Telescope: Meade 70mm APO

Acquisition: ZWO ASIAIR

Processing: Pixinsight

ACQUISITION DETAILS:

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.


GEAR USED:

Camera: Canon t3i

Telescope: 8" Astrograph

Mount: Atlas EQ-G

Processing: Pixinsight

ACQUISITION DETAILS:

Total Exposure Time: 3.45 hours

Exposure Time per frame: 3 minutes

69 lights - 21 Darks - 21 Bias

ISO: 400


 

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.




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 combining the channels into the "Hubble palette".

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



The Pillars of Creation with a beginner telescope

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!




Eagle Nebula with Vespera, Pillars of Creation

Here, we used the Vespera smart telescope (which we reviewed here) to capture the Eagle Nebula as a whole.


The Pillars of Creation look well-defined and impressive overall. A duo band filter was used to get this picture from our light-polluted backyard.


Processing was done on PixInsight, as the automatic processing in Vespera did not reveal the outer gases.


 

How to find the Eagle Nebula

How to find M16 the Eagle Nebula in the sky, constellation map

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”.

 

The Pillars of Creation by the James Webb Space Telescope


In October of 2022, NASA released yet another revisited version of their iconic Pillars of Creation image, but this time taken in near-infrared with the James Webb Space Telescope!


The image looks just incredible, and it is just mind-blowing to be able to zoom in and see all details on the official high-resolution version.


Click the image for the extra-high resolution picture!

The Pillars of Creation by the James Webb Space telescope

The image was taken with James Webb's near infrared camera (NIRCam) and allows us to see much more than what the visible light spectrum can reveal.


NASA explains this image in depth on the official page, but I found one section in particular very interesting:

"What about those wavy lines that look like lava at the edges of some pillars? These are ejections from stars that are still forming within the gas and dust. Young stars periodically shoot out supersonic jets that collide with clouds of material, like these thick pillars. This sometimes also results in bow shocks, which can form wavy patterns like a boat does as it moves through water. The crimson glow comes from the energetic hydrogen molecules that result from jets and shocks. This is evident in the second and third pillars from the top – the NIRCam image is practically pulsing with their activity."


When comparing the image from JWST (right) to the one from Hubble (left), it is very interesting to see that some of the gases appear so different in infrared, and even invisible in some areas.


Pillars of Creation Hubble vs James Webb


 

Cool Facts about the Eagle Nebula

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

  • Made famous by the HST in 1995

  • The 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 access above!



 

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






 


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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The Constellations Handbook guide

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.



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1 Comment


Nicolas Large
Nicolas Large
Jun 18, 2022

M16 was the very first DSO I've imaged 2 years ago. I captured it by "accident" as I saw a small fuzzy spot in my telephoto/DSLR viewfinder. As you can see below the first image was a single shot, very ugly, and very poorly processed but it got me started in Astrophotography.



Since then it serves as a benchmark target to track my progress in the hobby. I re-imaged just a few days ago...


Target: M16

Date: 2022-06-10

Location: San Antonio, TX (Bortle class 7)


Mount: IOptron SkyGuider Pro

Camera: Nikon D5300 astromod

OTA: William Optics Zenithstar 61II + Field Flattener FLAT61A

Focal/Aperture: 360 mm @ f/5.9

Filter: Radian Telescopes 2" Triad Ultra Quad-Band Narrowband Filter (H-beta:5nm, OIII:4nm, H-alpha:4nm, SII:4nm)


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