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M27 - The Dumbbell Nebula - DSLR Vs Mono

Updated: May 18, 2023

M27 was the first planetary object discovered by Charles Messier in 1764. We imaged this target several times with different equipment, Bortle locations and skill level. We will show you all our attempts below!

Object Designation: M27

Also known as: The Dumbbell Nebula

Constellation: Vulpecula

Object Type: Planetary Nebula

Distance: 1,360 light-years away

Magnitude: 7.5

Discovered in: 1764

Messier 27 is bright and at first, appears a little small, but large expansions of gas can be seen around the nebula in long exposure photos. It can easily be spotted with a telescope or even binoculars from a dark location. The best time to photograph M27 is in Summer but the object will stay high in the sky in Fall as well.

Imaging the Dumbbell Nebula from home with a monochrome camera

June 20, 2020

At the end of June 2020, I decided to spend several nights on Messier 27 from the backyard. I'm not sure why but I got over-confident and assumed it would be completely fine to image it in narrowband even during a full moon. This was a mistake... especially since our backyard is already extremely light-polluted at Bortle 9!

The 5 nights we spent on this target were all when the moon was very bright and up, and now I wish I waited a couple of weeks before starting this project. It would have probably been fine to just shoot Hydrogen Alpha, and maybe Sulfur as well, but it was most likely a terrible idea to shoot in Oiii as well during the full moon as this is the narrowband filter that blocks the least amount of light pollution.

I made a video about the whole process which you can watch HERE!

I also believe that with this camera and from the bright backyard, 5 minutes of exposure is too much for this object as the core was way too overblown when stacked and it was a real pain to reveal any detail while processing it!

Messier 27 Astrophotography from the backyard narrowband


Telescope: 8" Astrograph

Processing: Pixinsight


Total Exposure Time: 22.5 hours

Exposure Time per frame: 5 minutes

Gain: 139


Imaging the Dumbbell Nebula with a stock DSLR camera

October 3rd, 2017

This target does not require many hours to get great results. We only spent 1 hour and a half worth of 6 minute exposures to get the result below, and you can easily distinguish the shape of a dumbbell. You can also see a bit of the red "X" striking in the center of the nebula, which is not easy to get without spending a few hours on it. We imaged this from a Bortle 4 zone, which of course helped!


Processing: Pixinsight


Total Exposure Time: 1.6 hours

Exposure Time per frame: 6 minutes

16 lights - 30 Darks - 30 Bias

ISO: 800


Locating the Dumbbell Nebula

Messier 27 is the second brightest planetary nebula, and large enough to be visible with binoculars and small telescopes. Due to its high surface brightness, a telescope will yield more details in the gases of the nebula, and you may even recognize the shape of a dumbbell!

The Dumbbell nebula can be found inside the famous Summer Triangle (composed of the bright stars Altair, Deneb, and Vega), in the constellation of Vulpecula. Star hop from Altair and head down towards Deneb in a straight line. You will land on M27 about one-third of the way there.

Also note that an open cluster, NGC 6830 containing just about 30 stars lies just a couple degrees west of the nebula.


Cool Facts about M27

  • Inner gas has the shape of a dumbbell

  • Very similar to what our sun will become when it dies

  • Second brightest planetary nebula


Single Shot & Processing of M27

Below you can see our single shot of M27 using our stock DSLR camera. It is surprising how colorful and crisp it already looks! It is also hard to believe that 16 of these frames don't make that much of a difference when stacked and processed (2020 update: Well, maybe we just sucked at processing back then).

The biggest challenge in the processing is to bring out the red "X" striking in the center of the nebula.

This is not easy task with a stock DSLR unless you spend a lot of time on it, but it is achievable.

The key is to image from a zone that is dark enough, and make sure to bring out the red gases during processing. As always with red gases, a Hydrogen Alpha filter will help!


Messier 27 with a Smart Telescope

M27 with Stellina from Las Vegas

In 2019, we reviewed the smart telescope "Stellina" and took an image of M27 from both the very light polluted Las Vegas Strip, and the very dark Death Valley.

The image on the left is the one we took from the Strip (Bortle 9!) and we must say we are impressed considering this was only 12 minutes of total integration time!

Make sure to read our full review of Stellina if you'd like to see the comparison shot between the Las Vegas Strip and Death Valley, as well as many other images taken with this device.


Video: Photographing M27 from the backyard during the full moon

Want to know how I captured our 2020 version of the Dumbbell Nebula? Watch the video below as I image M27 with narrowband filters from the backyard!


Final Thoughts

The Dumbbell Nebula is a one of the easiest nebulae to photograph in the night sky. As you can see above, a single shot is already very impressive with an unmodified DSLR camera! We are a bit disappointed in our 2020 attempt mostly because we expected more for 22 hours of exposures, but we believe it is our own fault for shooting it during the full moon! We shall get a better image in a third attempt at some point!

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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