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NGC 1499 - The California Nebula taken from our backyard

Updated: May 18, 2023

The California Nebula is a magnificent target full of hydrogen in the constellation Perseus. In this post, we will show you our attempt at imaging this object from our light polluted backyard using our telescope, an astrophotography-dedicated camera and the TRIAD Ultra filter (click the link to read our review). We will also show you the result we got when photographing it wide field with a cheap unmodified DSLR camera with no filter, a 50mm lens and a sky tracker!


couple getting the keys to their new house
Getting the keys to our house

Backyard astrophotography is something we've always dreamed of, but it never became a reality... until now!


You may have watched our "Galactic House" video where to take you on a tour of the house we just moved in. As you may have seen, we did not waste anytime setting up our telescope in our backyard.


It was now time for us to attempt imaging from the city for the very first time!



NGC 1499 is an emission nebula full of Hydrogen gas. It got the nickname of California nebula because when photographed, it looks like the state of California!


This large nebula is located in Perseus and gets its glow from the bright star Xi Persei. The California nebula, despite being a famous target for astrophotographers, is really difficult to spot with a telescope or binoculars. When framing it with a camera, getting the right angle to make the entire state fit in the frame can be a blind challenge if you are not using a hydrogen filter.


NGC 1499 with a Canon DSLR Camera wide field and no telescope
The California Nebula without a telescope

We previously imaged the California Nebula with a DSLR camera, a cheap sky tracker and a 50mm lens.


You can see a cropped version of it on the left. It isn't very crisp, especially because it is a small part of the image, but most of the gas is there! We did not use a filter for this and still got a nice result.

We will show you the full un-cropped image later in this post, with a special guest: The Pleiades!



If you are just beginning astrophotography and a DSLR camera is all you have, it is a smart idea to attempt this object wide field without a telescope. A tracking mount is definitely recommended though, and will help you achieve much more by letting you take long exposure shots. More info on that below.


The TRIAD Ultra filter attached to our camera and coma corrector
The TRIAD Ultra filter attached to our camera

Before jumping into the images we got, let's quickly discuss the filter we used that night.


The image on the right shows the TRIAD Ultra filter from Radian Telescopes attached to our ASI 071MC.


This is a quad-band narrowband filter that should allow us to easily capture nebulae such as the California Nebula easily, no matter the light pollution.


We have a full review article and video about this filter on our website and YouTube where we image both NGC 1499 and Messier 42 (the Orion Nebula). Make sure to check them out!


Here is our final image of the California Nebula, taken from our Bortle 9 backyard and during a full moon.


NGC 1499 using the TRIAD Ultra filter with the ASI 071MC

The California Nebula backyard Astrophotography - ZWO ASI 071MC and TRIAD Ultra filter

GEAR USED:

Camera: ZWO ASI 071MC

Telescope: 8" Newtonian

Acquisition: ZWO ASIAIR

Processing: Pixinsight

ACQUISITION DETAILS:

Total Exposure Time: 6 hours and 30 minutes

Exposure Time per frame: 5 minutes

Filters: TRIAD Ultra Quad-Band

Gain: 90


You can get our Raw files for this target and many others by supporting us on Patreon :)


 

How to find the California Nebula?

How to find the California Nebula NGC 1499 in Perseus in the night sky, map

The California nebula can be found in the Perseus constellation, just north of the star Menkib.


Because it is filled with Hydrogen gas, the California nebula is extremely difficult to observe. The best way to spot it is by using an H-Beta filter under a true dark site, but even then it is not an easy find.


Although NGC 1499 got its name because it looks like California in photos, do not expect to see the iconic shape of the state while observing it. This is one of the hardest popular targets to see and it just looks like a patch of sky is slightly more pale.


Not too far from this nebula is the famous Pleiades star cluster located in Taurus. There is also another cluster, M34 near the bright star Algol. Another great target in Perseus is the Double Cluster NGC 869 & NGC 884. We have imaged all of these targets in the past, so click on the links to see our results!


 

Cool Facts about the California Nebula

  • Shaped like the U.S. state of California

  • Located in the Orion arm of our galaxy

  • Gets its glow from the extremely hot O-class star Xi Persi


 

Processing of NGC 1499


Like we said, this was our first time imaging from a light-polluted zone, and we really expected to struggle during processing. We gathered about 4 hours of data and, after spending a couple of hours processing it, we realized that we were not happy with the results. As you can see below, the nebula itself looks pretty nice and has tons of details, but the background is not only uneven, it also has artifacts.


These artifacts could have probably been taken care of with flats, but we have never bothered taking flats in 4 years of doing Astrophotography.


The California Nebula processing in PixInsight
4 hours on NGC 1499, the result after processing

We decided to spend an extra night imaging this target, and added about 2.5 hours of data to it. We also decided to process it in a smoother and less aggressive way. The end result is the image you see at the very top of this post. If you compare the two, you can see that the background looks much better and, even without flats, there is no visible artifacts remaining.


You can get our full PixInsight workflow HERE.


What did our single shots look like?


You may be wondering what a single shot of 5 minutes from our backyard looks like. Here is one! Remember that this is with the TRIAD Ultra filter attached. We were very impressed when seeing this pop up on our screen. The nebula pops out really well, the sky all around looks nice, and it is overall very promising.


The insane part is when comparing this single shot, with the same shot taken without the TRIAD Ultra filter. You may see the difference on our article about the TRIAD filter, go take a look!


The California Nebula single shot with the TRIAD ultra filter

 

Wide-Field Astrophotography of the California Nebula

December 16th, 2015


We have imaged the California Nebula once before, when we were just beginner astrophotographers with our cheap Canon t3i DSLR camera and sky tracker.


NGC 1499 is a pretty nice wide-field target and can be photographed with a 50mm or 85mm lens easily! The image below shows our attempt at including both the California Nebula and the Pleiades in the same frame using our DSLR camera and 50mm lens.


To achieve this result, you will need to attach your camera to a sky tracker (such as the