NGC 7023 - The Iris Nebula from a Bortle 2 zone


First light with the QHY128C camera!


If there were a place to call heaven in space, this would be it.

This magnificent, blue reflection nebula has a bright young star in its center, and gradually darkens as it is surrounded by clouds of interstellar dust.

Waiting for dark under a Bortle 2 desert sky

The Iris Nebula has always been one of our favorite deep sky objects, but we never were able to get a good-enough image of it to be proud.

The Iris Nebula is pretty faint and cannot be imaged in narrowband so you will need to escape light pollution in order to photograph it. On top of that, interstellar dust is very difficult to work with and requires special editing techniques. As you can see below, the image is full of such dust.


The fact that the central star is so bright and that the nebula itself has an enormous amount of details does not help either. If you feel like you have the dark skies and the processing skills needed for this wonderful nebula, go ahead and capture it, but be ready to spend several hours processing it.


Here is our image of the Iris Nebula, 4.5 hours in total taken from a Bortle 2 zone.


NGC 7023 using the QHY128C


GEAR USED:

Camera: QHY128C

Telescope: Orion 8" Astrograph f/3.9

Mount: Orion Atlas EQ-G

Guiding: ZWO ASI 290MM Mini

Power: Pegasus Astro Pocket Powerbox

Processing: Pixinsight

ACQUISITION DETAILS:

Total Exposure Time: 4.5 hours

Exposure Time per frame: 5 minutes

Filters: None

Gain: 3200



How to find the Iris Nebula?

The Iris nebula can be found in the constellation Cepheus. If you are having trouble finding Cepheus, first locate the North star, Polaris. The constellation we need is the one just to the south of Polaris, not far from Cassiopeia.

To locate the nebula itself, look for the bright star Alderamin, and simply go north until reaching another bright star (Alfirk). NGC 7023 will be a little bit to the southeast.

Spotting the Iris Nebula with binoculars is a nearly impossible task. A 10”+ telescope will reveal some faint nebulosity, as well as its bright central star.




Cool Facts
  • NGC 7023’s blue "petals" are six light-years across

  • Surrounded by huge clouds of interstellar dust

Processing of the Iris Nebula

The Iris Nebula is, in our opinion, one of the most difficult "popular" targets to process.


As we mentioned earlier, there are tons and tons of interstellar dust clouds all around the nebula, and a very bright star in its center. One crucial process to pay attention to is the background extraction. If using PixInsight, you will need to use Dynamic Background Extraction and go through each generated point to make sure none of them are on top of interstellar dust.


Because all this dust might not be very apparent in your Master Light file, here is a tip we would like to give you: Look for other great images of the Iris Nebula online, and place it on a side window so that you can see where dust is supposed to be. This will help you ensure that none of the Dynamic Background Extraction points are affecting invisible dusty areas of the image.


Our results after stacking all the files, before processing

Overall, we mostly followed our usual PixInsight workflow for One-Shot-Color cameras. You can get this workflow as a PDF "follow along" file HERE.


Final Thoughts

The Iris Nebula is definitely a tricky target. What do we wish we did better? The framing! If we weren't so rushed all the time and took a breather, we would have realized that centering the Iris Nebula exactly in the center of the frame is not a great idea, as there is so much gas visible on one side (top side for us)! Next time we image this object, we'll try to get even more gas by framing the object differently.


All our attempts at photographing the Iris Nebula



Overall though, we are pleased with this result and it is definitely an upgrade from our previous attempts!


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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