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M57 - The Ring Nebula Astrophotography

Updated: May 31, 2023

Messier 57, also called the Ring Nebula, is located in the constellation of Lyra. When I photographed M57, it was not an easy target! The nebula looks like a human eye and makes for a great image once stacked and processed. Learn more about the astrophotography of this captivating deep-sky object.

I had two main goals for this nebula:

  1. Ensure the white dwarf is visible

  2. Capture enough data to see internal and external gas


How to Photograph the Ring Nebula

During the editing process, I was happy to notice that I could see the external gas. Unfortunately, the only way to keep it in the photo was to make the core of M57 very bright and kill all the inner details. I decided to sacrifice the external gas and focus on the ring itself.

The Ring Nebula has two obvious colors, which are the result of temperature differences, the internal hot gas is blue while the cold outer gas is red.

Messier 57 is growing at a rate of at least 43,000 miles per hour, about 12 miles per second, it will continue to grow for more than 10,000 years before finally becoming faint enough to merge with the interstellar medium and disappear completely...

The Ring Nebula astrophotography


Camera: Canon T3i

Telescope: 8" Astrograph

Mount: Atlas EQ-G

Processing: Pixinsight


Total Exposure Time: 3 hours

Exposure Time per frame: 6 minutes

30 lights - 20 Darks - 20 Bias

ISO: 400


How to Locate the Ring Nebula

how to locate messier 57

The Ring Nebula lies just 2,283 light-years away from Earth, just south of the very bright star Vega, in the constellation of Lyra.

Messier 57 is very easy to find because it is located almost exactly in between the two bottom stars of Lyra, Sheliak, and Sulafat. Simply start from one of those two and make your way to the other in a straight line. You will spot your target just a little closer to Sheliak than in the center.

Because of its tiny size, M57 cannot be seen with the naked eye or even binoculars. An 8”+ telescope will reveal the gases forming the ring, and you may also see the inner part of the nebula. You might get surprised by the ring’s brightness when looking at it through a telescope, it may be tiny, but it is a wonderful object to stare at!

Cool Facts About the Ring Nebula

  • One of the smallest Messier objects

  • Growing at a rate of 43,000+ mph

  • Will faint away in 10,000 years


Single Shot & Processing of M57

Below you can see a very low definition of what a single shot of M57 looked like before processing. We had to screenshot it from Episode 2 since we did not save a single shot image on our computer.

messier 57 astrophotography

close up of the ring nebula

The processing of the Ring Nebula was more difficult than we thought. The image can be ruined if one step is not done properly, so it takes a lot of trial and error to get a result you'll like.

On the right you can see one of our ruined images, as the nebula is filled with tiny black pixels, that became apparent after the HDR Multiscale Transform step.

ring nebula astrophotography

The good thing about M57 being so tiny is that if you make some mistakes on the nebula itself like on the image above that are not obvious to the eye, the final image will look completely fine.

In the example on the left, you can see those tiny black dots if you zoom in really close!


Galactic Hunter Episode #2 - The Ring Nebula

The Ring Nebula was the winner of our very first vote! Therefore, Episode 2 of Galactic Hunter was all about the Ring :)

Discover how we captured this small target below.


The Size of Messier 57

The Ring Nebula is one of the smallest objects in the sky that are not too difficult to capture for beginner astrophotographers. Below is a size comparison between M57 and M42, the famous Orion Nebula.

ring nebula size comparison


Final Thoughts

The Ring Nebula may be a very small, and not-so-impressive target, but it is a great Messier object to photograph! You really need to spend several hours on the imaging, and really try your best during the processing, as we had a lot of trouble to not ruin our image.

The (camel?) spider that came to terrify us during the filming of the Episode.

desert spider

Clear Skies,

Galactic Hunter


astrophotographer's guidebook by 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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