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Messier 48 - Open Cluster in Hydra

Updated: Jun 8, 2023

M48 is an open cluster located 1,500 light-years away in the largest constellation in the sky: Hydra. It is not the most exciting object out there, that's for sure, but it is a nice target to capture nonetheless.

Object Designation: M48, NGC 2548

Also known as: N/A

Constellation: Hydra

Object Type: Open Cluster

Distance: 1,500 light-years away

Magnitude: 5.8

Discovery: Charles Messier in 1771

M48 is an easy target to photograph for beginner astrophotographers, as it can be captured without needing to shoot a lot of frames and is simple to process.

It is best photographed in the Winter season. Below you'll see our photograph of M48 along with several useful bits of information.


M48 from a Dark Site

April 2023

This was our first time shooting M48. We decided to spend several nights on it and reach 7.5 hours of total integration time. We did 5-minute exposures with the hope of finding some faint nebulosity in the background (like what happened with Messier 37) and making this object more exciting. Sadly, no nebulosity was present after stacking the data, and the result just shows a regular open cluster.

We used our SVX130 refractor telescope from Utah Desert Remote Observatories with R, G, and B filters on our mono camera. We were tempted to use our HA filter as well but decided against it because this target does not rise very high in the sky from our location and so it would have taken a lot of short sessions to get something decent.

M48 cluster astrophotography in RGB


Camera: QHY600M

Telescope: Stellarvue SVX130

Mount: 10Micron GM1000 HPS

Accessories: Moonlite Nitecrawler focuser / Pegasus Astro Ultimate Powerbox

Processing: Pixinsight, final touches in Lightroom


Total Exposure Time: 7.5 hours

Exposure Time per frame: 5 minutes

Gain: 56


How to Locate Messier 48

How to find M48 in the sky, map

Messier 48 lies approximately 1,500 light-years away from Earth. It can be found in the constellation Hydra, the largest one in the sky! M48 is made up of about 80 stars and has a diameter of 20 light-years.

To find M48, first locate the brightest star in Hydra: the red star Alphard. From there, make your way to the nearby constellation Monoceros. M48 is located about halfway between Alphard and the cluster M50.

M48 is not visible to the naked eye, but its brightest stars can be seen through binoculars from a dark location. Using a small telescope, you may be able to observe about 20 bright stars in the cluster. It is of course recommended to use a large telescope to experience the full beauty of M48, as it will resolve much fainter stars.

Other objects near M48 include M46, M47, and M50.


Non-Stop Satellite Train going through M48

Messier 48 is probably the Messier object that is located in the worst possible place in the sky. In every single picture, I could see one or more satellites going right through the cluster. I created a short timelapse video showing you exactly what I mean. You can see the path of all the satellites and how they go exactly through the center of the cluster.

This may not seem like a problem because PixInsight and other programs can easily remove satellite trails from images, but it actually did manage to stick during stacking...


Processing Messier 48

Processing M48 was very simple, but not exciting in any way. It is basically just like processing a random section of the sky with bright stars. There is nothing specific to bring out, nothing colorful to play with, and no intricate details to enhance. Let's be honest here, this is probably one of the most boring data I've ever had to process.

The only difficult part was the hundreds of satellite trails present in the images. Because they follow almost the same exact path, a lot of very thin and faint lines could be seen in the master file despite the fact that "Winsorized Sigma Clipping" was selected and should have taken care of it.

Below you can see what a raw 300-second shot looks like using our Red filter.

Messier 48 single 300s shot

Astrophotography Tips for Processing Images

If you're interested in learning how we process all of our images, we've put together a comprehensive guide that you can follow along. You can process your images just as we do! Find information on the guide here.


Messier 48 FAQ

  • Which constellation is Messier 48 located in?

You can find M48 in the constellation Hydra.

  • How big is M48?

The M48 cluster has a diameter of 20 light-years and an apparent size of 54 arc-minutes.

  • How far is Messier 48?

M48 lies approximately 1,500 light-years away from Earth.

  • How many stars are in M48?

Messier 48 contains about 80 stars.

  • How long should my exposure time be for this object?

M48 is an open cluster, the stars are spread apart and so you can safely do long exposures if you'd like. We did 5-minute exposures, but you can honestly pick whatever you'd like as the exposure time, as you're just imaging stars. We suggest at least 3 to 5 minutes just so that you don't have too many files to deal with.

  • Should I use a filter to image M48?

Messier 48 is a broadband target so you can image it without any specific filter.

  • What equipment do I need to photograph Messier 48?

Since Messier 48 is a small cluster, it is best photographed using a large telescope. You can capture it with a telescope of any size, but you may not achieve the best results if you use a short focal length. On that note, we do not recommend photographing this object with just a DSLR lens.

The Askar FRA600 can be a nice telescope for the price if you're a beginner looking for a good focal length instrument for M48 and most other popular targets.


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Final Thoughts

Messier 48 is now added to our Messier Catalog! But... let's not lie and say that this is an incredible object. It is one of the most basic clusters out there and does not seem to have anything going on in the background. It is definitely an easy object to photograph and process if you're a beginner astrophotographer, but don't expect it to blow you away.

Have you captured M48 in the past? Include your picture in the comments below along with some information about your gear so that everyone can see it!

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Clear Skies,

Galactic Hunter

216 views2 comments


CJ Menagh
CJ Menagh

Taken 2021 Mar 12 with a (second time out) William Optics Z73II, iOptron Sky Guider Pro, Canon T3i modified, PHD2, Astrophotography Tool, DSS, GIMP, reprocessed in Siril.

Antoine & Dalia Grelin
Antoine & Dalia Grelin

Cool shot and similar to ours! I'd love to use a Newt for this target and see if the diffraction spikes make it look super nice.

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