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M97 & M108 - The Owl Nebula and Surfboard Galaxy Astrophotography

Updated: May 22, 2023


Messier 97 and Messier 108 were both discovered in February 1781 by Pierre Méchain.

He first spotted the small, dim, and unimpressive M97 nebula, and just three days later saw M108 through his telescope, just near the Owl. Messier 108 is seen almost edge-on, giving it the look of a surfboard. It is classified as a barred spiral galaxy with loose arms.


The nickname of Messier 97, the Owl, was given by William Parson in 1848 after the drawing he made of the nebula, where two big eyes could be seen. Let's face it, the owl looks a tad… boring, by itself! It is nonetheless a popular target for astrophotographers, thanks to the nearby galaxy M108 which really adds to the picture.


Below is our image of both M97 and M108. You can see us capture this from beginning to end in our 12th Episode of Galactic Hunter. We explain in the video that we made the mistake of forgetting one of the adapters for the ASI 1600MM camera, resulting in bad coma on the edges.


3 hours and a half on M97 and M108

M97 the Owl Nebula and M108 the Surfboard Galaxy photographed using a ZWO ASI 1600MM CMOS camera for Astrophotography and an 8" Orion telescope Astrograph f/3.9

GEAR USED:

Telescope: 8" Astrograph

Acquisition: ASIAIR

Processing: Pixinsight

ACQUISITION DETAILS:

Total Exposure Time: 3 hours and 33 minutes

Exposure Time per frame: 3 minutes

Filters: L (33m) / R (1 hour) / G (1 hour) / B (1 hour)

Gain: 139


 

Imaging the Owl Nebula with the QHY533M

February 2022


We imaged M97 with the QHY533M in February 2022 from our backyard. We spent a total of one night on it with our SVX130 telescope.


The Owl Nebula is a great target for the QHY533M because of the square sensor and the pixel size that allows us to get a nice close-up view without having to crop much. Be sure to read/watch our full review of the QHY533M.


Here you can see what each channel looked like (H / S / O). The nebula is very bright, especially in OIII.



Because M97 is just... round and small, we did not have to bother checking the angle of our camera. It really did not matter especially since the sensor of this camera is square! We did 5-minute exposures and gathered a total of 8 hours in narrowband on M97.


Below is the final image. We are impressed with the result considering this is an entry-level camera and it did very well with the noise and detail in the object.


Learn about the different types of nebulae on our nebula gallery page.


M97 in narrowband using the QHY533M

The Owl Nebula M97 imaged with the QHY533M and small refractor telescope

GEAR USED:

Camera: QHY533M

Telescope: Stellarvue SVX130

Mount: 10Micron GM1000 HPS

Processing: PixInsight

ACQUISITION DETAILS:

Total Exposure Time: 8 hours

Exposure Time per frame: 5 minutes

Filters: ZWO Ha/Sii/Oiii

Gain: 76


 

How to Locate M97 and M108


Both of these objects can be found in the constellation of Ursa Major, near the bright star Merak. Although very small, observing M97 and M108 using an eyepiece is actually pretty rewarding due to their proximity to one another. The Owl Nebula even appears brighter visually than in a photograph. The sight you will have when looking at these is very similar to if you were going to observe M81 and M82, only a bit dimmer.


Because of their small size and faint magnitude, these objects can not be seen with the naked eye and are extremely difficult to spot through binoculars.


See all the photos of galaxies we've taken on our galaxy gallery page.

 

Single Shot and Processing of M97 and M108


We used four filters to capture M97 and M108: Luminance, Red, Green, and Blue. We were still very unfamiliar with using LRGB filters one by one with an Astrophotography dedicated camera, so we're not sure that the Gain (139) and the exposure time for each (3 minutes) was the best choices for this.


Below you can see each of the stacked filters:



We then combined each of these using PixInsight's LRGBCombination process, which was quick and easy! Here is the result below.


Files stacked, cropped, and ready to be processed

M97 the Owl Nebula and M108 the Surfboard Galaxy stacked LRGB from a ZWO ASI 1600MM Pro Astrophotography Camera

 

Galactic Hunter Episode 12 - Imaging the Owl Nebula and Surfboard Galaxy


Both Messier 97 and Messier 108 were captured during our 12th Episode of Galactic Hunter! Watch our video below to see our entire process!



 

Final Thoughts


The Owl Nebula and Surfboard Galaxy are often overlooked as "boring" Messier objects mostly due to their small size and faint brightness. The truth is, the two of them together make for a beautiful image, and it is really great to see both a nebula and a galaxy so close to each other.


Clear Skies,

Galactic Hunter


 

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