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NGC 6302 - The Bug Nebula Astrophotography, our first southern sky object!

Updated: May 18

The Bug Nebula by NASA

The Bug Nebula (also sometimes called the Butterfly Nebula) is a bipolar planetary nebula located in Scorpius. Although this object is visible from our location, Las Vegas, it is extremely low in the horizon and never rises high enough to be imaged without being affected by our atmosphere's disturbance. Whenever we image a new target, we wait until it is higher than 20° or even 25° above the horizon before starting our photography series. NGC 6302 never rises above 16°.

The image on the left was taken by the Hubble Space Telescope and is one of the most famous photographs taken by NASA.

Not long ago I processed my very first Southern target (Centaurus A) but I never actually captured one myself!

Recently, the gentlemen who own, a company that owns several high class telescopes around the world and rents them out to both amateur astrophotographers and researchers reached out to me to ask if I wanted to spend some time imaging with one of their telescopes. Of course, I said yes!

This is what the observatory site looks like. A beautiful Bortle 1 zone in a mountain range at an altitude of 5,000 feet.

The telescope I will be using is a PlaneWave CDK24 (A 24" aperture telescope with a focal length of 3962mm and an F-ratio of F/6.5). The camera is an FLI Proline PL9000.

I won't lie. I dream of having this setup one day.

Below is our result, with only 1 hour and 8 minutes of total integration time! Make sure to watch the video to see the entire process of capturing this nebula!

The bipolar planetary nebula NGC 6302

The Bug Nebula Astrophotography in LRGB

Would you like to process this data? Raw files now added to our Patreon!


Camera: FLI Proline PL9000

Telescope: PlaneWave 24" f/6.5 CDK

Mount: Mathis MI-1000/1250 with absolute encoders

Observatory: Observatorio El Sauce

Processing: Pixinsight


Total Exposure Time: 1 hour and 8 minutes

Exposure Time per frame: 3 minutes

Filters: L (10)/R (4)/G (4)/B (4)


How to find the Bug Nebula?

How to find the Bug Nebula NGC 6302 in Scorpius, constellation map

The Bug Nebula is located in the constellation Scorpius. Scorpius is visible from the Northern hemisphere but never rises high in the sky. NGC 6302 can be found near the South-East edge of the constellation, not far from Norma and Lupus.

The open cluster NGC 6231 lies not far from the Bug Nebula, in the abdomen of the scorpion.


Cool Facts

  • The Bug Nebula has one of the most complex structure ever observed

  • Its central star has a temperature of 250,000 degrees Celsius, making it one of the hottest stars known in the universe

  • Discovered in 1888 or before


Processing NGC 6302

Processing the Bug Nebula was pretty exciting, especially knowing that the data came from some professional grade equipment! It is a very small object, and it has a very bright core, which is not a good combination if you're trying to process some easy targets. Luckily, I chose to do 3 minute exposures only as doing more would probably have blown out the core way too much!

As always, I used the same workflow I always follow when processing astrophotography data. You can access our follow-along processing guide that details our entire workflow HERE.

One thing that shocked (and scared) me was the red hue that started to appear in the bottom half of the frame as I was processing the image. At first, I doubted myself and thought that I most likely messed up the DBE process or went too crazy on the saturation without having applied the proper masks, but after hours or re-processing the data, I concluded that it was some Hydrogen Alpha gas. The shape and faintness of the gas reminded me of the area around Messier 29.

Amateur images of the Bug Nebula are really difficult to find online, and so I was not able to compare my image with another and see if that red color was normal or fake. I did stumble upon a wide field image of this area of the sky though, where plenty of hydrogen alpha could be seen and most importantly, the reds matched the "bottom half" area of my result!

I was relieved, and I now believe that the red you see in the image is Hydrogen Alpha.

PixInsight: The Bug Nebula processing
PixInsight: The Bug Nebula - Broadband channels

Close up on the Bug Nebula
Close up on the Bug Nebula

Here is a crop on the Bug Nebula so that you can see it better. I did not take off the green color (like I usually do in most images) this time because I like the green-ish hue in the core of the nebula.

The white dwarf is way overblown though and I could not make it less apparent.

What did each broadband channel look like?

Below you can see what the stacked frames look like for each broadband channel. Four filters were used to capture the Bug Nebula:

  • Luminance (top left)

  • Red (top right)

  • Green (bottom left)

  • Blue (bottom right)

As you can see, both the Luminance and Red channel show what I believe is Hydrogen Alpha, but the Blue and Green channel do not. This reinforces my belief that it is indeed some juicy HA gas :) Now I regret not spending any time with the HA filter on!


A Note about the Equipment used

The equipment I remotely controlled to capture this object was the following:

Telescope used:

PlaneWave 24" f/6.5 CDK

  • Telescope tube weight: 240 lbs.

  • Focal length: 3962 mm (156 inches)

  • Focal ratio: f/6.5

  • Aperture: 610 mm (24 inches)

  • Image Circle: 70 mm

  • Cost: $55,000

Mount used:

Mathis MI-1000/1250 with absolute encoders

  • Computerized Mount

  • Head Design: Fork

  • Instrument Capacity: 320 lbs

  • Latitude Range: 25 to 56 degrees

  • Mount Weight: 220 lb

  • Cost: $66,516

Camera used:

FLI Proline PL9000 Monochrome CCD Camera

  • Manufacturer: FLI

  • Model: PL-9000M

  • Pixel Array: 3056 x 3056

  • Pixel Size: 12 microns

  • Field of View: 31.8 x 31.8 arcmin

  • Cost: $10,995

Below is an image of the setup used, absolutely insane!

Planewave CDK24 anf Fork Mount

The cost of this setup is, from my calculations, $132,511. And that's not counting the guiding, filters, the accessories, the roof...

It is so incredible to know that anyone can use this type of instrument from the comfort of their home.

This setup is, of course, a permanent observatory installation. Don't think for a second that you can fit that mount in the trunk of your car and go image by the lake, that's not going to be possible.


Bug Nebula - Video

Below is a video showing how easy it was to control this telescope from the internet and download the data. I hope you find this interesting!


Final Thoughts

I am very happy with the image of the Bug Nebula captured with this telescope. Besides choosing the settings, filters, and the actual target, I really did not have to do anything but wait for the images to roll in. It was almost... too easy!

I would like to thank for the opportunity of remotely controlling this telescope and will show you guys some more images taken with similar instruments over time! If you guys wanted to also remote control a high end telescope, here is a coupon code: "GHUNT20" (valid until the end of August, and no this is not an affiliated coupon so we don't get anything out of it, we just want to share it!). This coupon will add $20 to your account (on top of the $20 that are already on there when signing up).

Check out our Patreon page to download the raw data:

Have you captured The Bug Nebula? Attach your image in the comments and let us know your acquisition details!

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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