NGC 281 - The Pacman Nebula with the ASI 1600MM

Updated: Aug 3, 2020

The Pacman Nebula is an emission nebula in the constellation Cassiopeia. It is located in the Perseus arm of our Milky Way galaxy, and so is best photographed in the Fall Season.

IC 1590 by NASA

Visible in the center of the Pacman Nebula is a young open cluster, IC 1590. It is faint but easily visible in photographs. You might also be able to spot in with a pair of binoculars or a telescope if observing from a very dark site.

The cluster is home to more than 279 stars and illuminate the gases around it that shape the Pacman Nebula.

The photo on the left was taken by NASA and shows several stars from IC 1590.

We did not plan out our night correctly and initially did not intend to photograph NGC 281 that day, but changed our mind and spent 2 hours on it. Although the Pacman Nebula is bright enough to look great in most pictures, we wish we spent two extra hours of total exposure time on it to reduce noise in the background and get some more of the faint outer gases.

The image below is the result we got doing one hour of Hydrogen Alpha, thirty minutes of Oxygen III and thirty minutes of Sulfur II.

NGC 281 in narrowband with the ASI 1600MM


Camera: ZWO ASI 1600mm Pro Mono

Telescope: Orion 8" Astrograph f/3.9

Mount: Atlas EQ-G motorized Mount

Guiding: ZWO ASI 290MM Mini

Acquisition: ZWO ASIAIR

Power: Pegasus Astro Pocket Powerbox

Processing: Pixinsight


Total Exposure Time: 2 hours

Exposure Time per frame: 3 minutes

Filters: Ha (1 hour) / OIII (30 min) / SII (30 min)

Gain: 139

How to find the Pacman Nebula?

Despite NGC 281's bright magnitude, this object cannot be spotted with the naked eye due to its gas composition. You might be able to see it using binoculars or a telescope if you are observing from a very dark location.

NGC 281 is located in Cassiopeia. An easy way to find it is to locate the constellation's iconic "W" shape and, from the middle star, aim just a bit "under" the W. You might be able to frame both the Pacman Nebula and the famous Andromeda Galaxy if using a DSLR camera with a wide lens.

Cool Facts
  • Discovered in 1883

  • Got its name because it looks like the video game character

  • A star cluster, IC 1590 is visible within the gases

Processing of NGC 281

Processing the Pacman Nebula was actually pretty difficult. We followed our usual processing workflow, as we do for pretty much all our Astrophotography images, but we had some trouble getting a result we liked this time.

Our main challenge was noise removal and color calibration. We blame the low total exposure time for giving us so much pain in processing Pacman, and we still don't have a final result we are in love with.

How much data can you get with each filter?

Just like most of our images taken with our monochrome camera, we like to show you guys what the stacked data for each channel looks like before combining them into a color image.

Below are, from left to right, our stacked images of the Pacman Nebula using the following three narrowband filters:

  • Hydrogen Alpha (1 hour)

  • Oxygen III (30 minutes)

  • Sulfur II (30 minutes)

Final Thoughts

We won't lie, we're not huge fans of this target. Our image has actually been sitting on our computer for several weeks before we decided to finally upload it to our website.

We're not sure if we will revisit this object any time soon. We would have preferred to have spent more time on it and be done with it, but we're still pretty happy with the final result.

Have you imaged the Pacman Nebula? of the Crescent Nebula and/or the Soap Bubble Nebula in the comments! We'd all love to see your work :)

Make sure to follow us on Facebook, Instagram, and YouTube to stay up to date with our work!

Clear Skies,

Galactic Hunter



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