Updated: Aug 22
The Lagoon Nebula is the 8th deep sky object in the Messier Catalog and is a great target for beginner astrophotographers because of its size, magnitude, and color. This target is best photographed in the month of August and is considered a good summer astrophotography target. If you're a seasoned astrophotographer, challenge yourself and get two targets in one go by framing your image to capture a nearby nebula, Messier 20.
Object Designation: M8, Sh2-25, Gum 72
Also known as: The Lagoon Nebula
Object Type: Emission Nebula
Distance: 4,100 light-years away
Discovery: Giovanni Battista Hodierna before 1654
See our attempts at Messier 8 below, including the equipment we used and some tips to help you out.
Messier 8 with RASA 8 in Bortle 2 Class Sky
In the early summer of 2023, we swapped our telescope at Utah Desert Remote Observatories changing it from the SVX130 refractor to the Celestron RASA 8. The swap was a fun change as we needed the telescope while filming for the Galactic Course Season 4 - which covers all you need to know about remote imaging!
Overall, we spent 8 hours imaging the Lagoon Nebula using the fast RASA 8 which is f/2. We did 300-second exposures, which is perfectly fine for that telescope under dark skies.
The final image is a beautiful image with natural color because we didn't use any filters on it! It looks stunning in "true color" with much of the Hydrogen Alpha gas being revealed without issues by the Bortle 2 skies.
Below you can see two versions of Messier 8. One with stars and the other is a starless version 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: 8 hours
Exposure Time per frame: 5 minutes
Practice processing with our data: Download raw data of M20 & M8
Lagoon Nebula Hubble Palette
If imaging from a dark location, you will not have to spend much time on this target. We have imaged Messier 8 with both our old Canon t3i DSLR camera and, in 2017, our ZWO ASI 1600MM-Pro CMOS camera. We also have a full episode about M8 (and M20) on our YouTube Channel.
The photo below was taken with our cooled camera, for a total of 3 hours.
Camera: ZWO ASI 1600MM
Telescope: Meade 70mm APO
Mount: Orion Atlas EQ-G
Guiding: ZWO ASI 290MM Mini
Acquisition: ZWO ASIAIR
Total Exposure Time: 3 hours
Exposure Time per frame: 3 minutes
Filters: Ha (1 hour) / SII (1 hour) / OIII (1 hour)
How to Find the Lagoon Nebula
The Lagoon Nebula is located in the Sagittarius constellation. You can find it in the busy Milky Way band, above the top right of Sagittarius’ teapot asterism.
Make sure to plan ahead before going out for imaging this target, as the nebula does not rise very high in the sky in the Northern Hemisphere.
You can easily see both the Lagoon Nebula and its star cluster with binoculars from a dark zone. It is also visible to the naked eye as a gray patch, but a little hard to distinguish since it is inside the Milky Way band. A telescope will reveal visible details like darker shades of gray within the gases.
Cool Facts about the Lagoon Nebula
Open Star Cluster NGC 6530 in front of the nebula
Discovered before 1654
Bright center contains the Hourglass Nebula
Single Shot and Processing of M8
Determined to image M8 and M20 in narrowband and Hubble palette, we used our Ha, SII, and OIII filters to capture this beautiful and bright nebula. We spent exactly one hour on each filter, doing three-minute exposures for each. Below you can see the stacked frames for each filter, with, of course, the Hydrogen Alpha data being the most impressive.
The Lagoon Nebula, stacked frames for Ha/SII/OIII
The processing was a bit tricky in this particular case since we have some nebulosity cut-off on the top left, and we were still learning how to process narrowband images.
Here is the first result we got after processing our data on PixInsight. As you can see, it is very detailed but also very green, a bit too green for our taste.
We decided to process our data again a couple of days later and were able to get an overall color we liked (shown at the top of this post).
Below you can see our single shot of 3 minutes at ISO 400 on Messier 8, this time with our Canon t3i DSLR camera.
Notice how there is much more blue in the final image than in that single shot!
Just like M20, M8 doesn’t get very high from the horizon. This can be challenging when photographing it because you want to make sure that there are no big cities in the direction of the nebula, or it will create a light pollution dome that you will have to shoot through.
The open cluster NGC 6530, located just in front of the Lagoon Nebula, can be seen on the left side. The cluster was formed from the gases of M8, and makes a really great addition to the overall image!
Our Video about Capturing M8
In Episode 13, we try out a small refractor telescope and photograph both Messier 8 and Messier 20 in the same frame! Watch it below to see how we ended up with our final image.
The Lagoon Nebula is a great target for beginner astrophotographers using any type of camera. Just 2 hours of total exposure from a dark site is enough to make a beautiful image, and the processing is easy as well!
It is also a fantastic object to revisit when you have high-end equipment and more training in the hobby. We spent 3 hours on this nebula with a cooled astronomy camera, 3 years after our first attempt, and we had a blast imaging and processing this target! With our latest capture, we were able to bring out the natural color of the nebula and it's the best we've captured so far!
You can practice processing with our data: Download raw data for M8 & M20. It would support us and help you on your Astro journey.
If this post helped you, don't hesitate to attach your own version of the Lagoon Nebula so everyone can see your work!
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!