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M78 - Reflection Nebula in Orion

Updated: May 18

Messier 78 is a rather dark diffuse reflection nebula in the constellation of the hunter, Orion. It is very close to Messier 42 (The Orion Nebula) and IC 434 (The Horsehead nebula).

The photo below was taken through our 8” telescope with a total exposure time of only 1 hour and 9 minutes! This post may be updated in the near future as we originally planned to image this target for 6 hours before winds came out of nowhere.

Messier 78 - Unmodified DSLR Astrophotography


Camera: Canon 7D Mark II

Telescope: 8" Astrograph

Mount: Atlas EQ-G

Coma: Baader MPCC Coma Corrector MkIII

Guiding: Starshoot Autoguider - 50mm Guide Scope

Processing: Pixinsight


Total Exposure Time: 1 hour and 9 minutes

Exposure Time per frame: 3 minutes

23 lights - 15 Darks - 15 Bias

ISO: 800



M78 cannot be seen with the naked eye, but can be spotted with binoculars or a small telescope. It is located very close to other deep sky objects, such as the Horsehead and Flame nebulae, the Orion nebula and not too far from the Witch Head nebula.

An easy way to find this target is to use a camera lens, such as a 50mm lens, and take a long exposure shot of the area around Orion's sword. You should be able to spot to bright/fuzzy stars where M78 lies.


Cool Facts about M78

  • Discovered in 1780

  • The brightest diffuse reflection nebula in the sky

  • Has formed about 200 stars


Wide-Field Capture of M78

M78 can be photographed with just a camera lens! Attach your camera to a tracking mount, and aim for the emission nebula Barnard's Loop. You can also get IC 434 and M42 in the same frame if using a 85m or 50mm lens!

Below is Barnard's Loop, we spent 7.2 hours on the imaging (watch Episode 8!), using a 50mm lens, also tracking the stars with our motorized mount.


Camera: Canon 7D Mark II

Lens: Canon EF 50mm f/1.8 STM Lens

Mount: Atlas EQ-G motorized Mount

Processing: Pixinsight


Total Exposure Time: 7.2 hours

RGB Exposure Time: 3.6 hours

Hydrogen Alpha Exposure Time: 3.6 hours

Exposure Time per frame: 6 minutes

73 lights, calibrated with Darks and Bias

ISO: 800


Single Shot and Processing of M78

As we mentioned earlier, we originally planned to image M78 for 6 hours. Although it is the brightest diffuse reflection nebula in our sky, it is still pretty dark overall and the details in the gases are really hard to see in short exposure photographs!

Single shot of M78 - 3 minutes at ISO 800

After being forced to pack and go home by our crazy Nevada desert winds, we really did not intend to touch the 23 light files we had until we had enough data to process them all at once.

It is only while trying to find a good example object for a PixInsight tutorial that we decided to choose M78 as it would be a challenge to process and would be perfect for said tutorial! Well... we were pleasantly surprised (well, Antoine, as Dalia's skills on PixInsight are non-existent).

You can watch our entire PixInsight workflow by clicking the video below!

You can also download all of our raw files HERE and try to process it on your own. Add it to Instagram with the hashtag #M78GalacticHunter so we can see it and feature it on our website!

Our PixInsight tutorial video


Your Results

Thank you to everyone who gave our data a go! We hope our videos helped you and we are happy to see results that are really diverse, as we can see different techniques were used where some details or gases are more apparent here and there.

Below are some the images taken from Instagram with the hashtag #M78GalacticHunter.

From left to right:

- @Astroyorkshire

- @Timm1138

- @Zedjofr

- Tiger Lefebvre

- Thomas D.

- Astro Dude

Click on the image to be redirected to the proper Instagram post (if relevant)!


Final Thoughts

Messier 78 is one of our favorite nebulae in the sky. We'd love to see your own versions of M78! Attach your image in the comments below with some equipment detail :)

Clear Skies,

Antoine & Dalia Grelin

Galactic Hunter

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