Updated: Aug 28
The North America Nebula is a large emission nebula that can be found in the constellation of the swan: Cygnus. Just like most other famous nebulae in the night sky, NGC 7000 got its name from its shape, which reminds us of the continent of North America. Central America is also part of it, it actually makes the most popular section of this object: The Cygnus Wall.
Object Designation: NGC 7000, Sh2-117, Caldwell 20
Also known as: The North America Nebula
Object Type: Emission Nebula
Distance: 2,600 light-years away
Discovered in: 1786 by William Herschel
The Cygnus Wall is what you should aim for if you are attempting to capture the North America Nebula, as the wall is bright and appears easily in short exposure test shots.
Be aware that most of the gas within the North America Nebula is "above" the Cygnus Wall, so try to frame is near the bottom edge of your frame rather than in the center. That way, you are more likely to capture the entire North America Nebula region.
We captured the North America Nebula three times:
From our backyard using a smart telescope... for 54 hours!
From our backyard with a small refractor telescope and full-frame monochrome camera where we also included the Pelican Nebula and surrounding gases in the same frame
From the desert with a small refractor telescope and cropped sensor monochrome camera
See our results below!
54 hours on the North America and Pelican Nebulae Using a Smart Telescope
In 2023, we decided to challenge ourselves to create some of the best possible images using a smart telescope, in our case, Vespera from Vaonis.
Our first target was the Crescent Nebula, which turned out very beautiful after spending 10 hours on it. We shot a couple of other targets until we decided to start a much larger project: a 50+ hours mosaic.
We chose the North America and Pelican Nebulae in Cygnus as the target of choice. This is a massive and colorful section of the sky that would be perfect for a mosaic. Thanks to the CovaLENS feature of Vespera, we were able to do very specific framings for each of our mosaic panels, and ended up with a 3-panel mosaic that we just had to stitch and process. You can see the result below.
The North America Nebula and the Pelican Nebula
July 2022, Las Vegas backyard
Unlike the last time we imaged the North America Nebula, we now have a backyard! This means we can re-visit this target from the comfort of our home and spend several nights on it to get much better results.
I spent 3 nights imaging the North America Nebula, using one narrowband filter per night.
I made sure that the object was not cut-off this time, and even included the entire Pelican Nebula as well as more nebulous gas all over the region.
This was possible by using a small refractor once again but this time paired with a full-frame camera. Full-frame cameras give you a much larger field of view than cropped-sensor cameras.
The total integration time for this image is 15 hours, which isn't that much when compared with our other deep sky objects captured from the city, which usually are around the 40-hour mark, and even up to 61 hours.
But the quality is great on this target even with "just" 15 hours so I decided to not keep going.
This was our first light with the new Radian 75 telescope! A nice small Petzval refractor telescope with full-frame capabilities.
NGC 7000 and IC 5070 with a small telescope
Telescope: Radian 75
Guiding: ZWO ASI 290MM Mini
Accessories: Pegasus Astro Ultimate Powerbox
Power: Jackery Lithium Battery
Processing: Pixinsight, with RC-Astro plugins
Total Exposure Time: 15 hours
Exposure Time per frame: 10 minutes
Filters: Chroma 3nm Ha/Sii/Oiii
First Attempt at the North America Nebula
July 2019, Nevada desert
Because of its size (about four to five times that of the full moon), there was no way we could use our 8" Newtonian Astrograph to capture this object. This could have been great for just the Cygnus Wall, but we wanted the whole region!
We asked OPT if they could loan us a much wider telescope for both this target and the one chosen for Episode 13 of Galactic Hunter, and they did! We were then able to capture the entirety of NGC 7000. Well, almost...
The North America Nebula is very faint, and it is difficult to really see its edges when doing test shots. Not being familiar with the wide telescope we received, and not preparing ahead, we were convinced that our framing was good enough when seeing the Cygnus Wall appear near the bottom of our screen, but the top part of the nebula still got a little cut-off.
Processing NGC 7000 was a bit of a challenge, and we had to go through our processing steps several times over the week to really get a final image we would be happy with. We attached our first result lower in this post, but you can see our final image below.
NGC 7000 (HaSIIOIII), with the ASI 1600MM
Camera: ZWO ASI 1600mm Pro Mono
Telescope: Meade 6000 series 70mm APO Astrograph
Mount: Atlas EQ-G motorized Mount
Guiding: ZWO ASI 290MM Mini
Acquisition: ZWO ASIAIR
Total Exposure Time: 3 hours
Exposure Time per frame: 3 minutes
Filters: Ha (1 hour) / SII (1 hour) / OIII (1 hour)
How to Find the North America Nebula
The North America nebula is located in the constellation of Cygnus, the swan.
The star at the tail end of Cygnus is its brightest star, Deneb, and moving westward you will find your targets.
Despite being very large, you will not be able to spot the nebula with the naked eye, as its gases are spread out and quite dim. You might see a patch of gray light with a pair of binoculars or small telescope (e.g. 3”), but know that this is very unlikely due to the very low surface brightness of this object.
For better results, the use of a UHC filter is recommended when looking at the target through a telescope, but you will not be able to see any shapes or details until taking a long exposure shot with a camera.
Discovered in 1786
The brightest stars form the “Little Orion” asterism
The Cygnus Wall divides NGC 7000 from the Pelican Nebula with dark nebulosity
Single Shot & Processing of NGC 7000
We used three filters to capture NGC 7000: SII, OIII and Ha.
Below you can see the stacked images for each filter.
The North America Nebula, stacked images for SII/OIII/Ha
Just like the majority of nebulae in Summer, especially the emission nebulae, the Ha filter reveals more details than the other two and is overall much cleaner.
As we mentioned earlier, the processing was a little bit tricky, as it was difficult to get the right colors and keep a low amount of noise overall. Below you can see our first attempt at processing NGC 7000, which you can compare with our final image at the top of this post to see the difference. Although there seems to be more crisp details in the one below, we weren't really happy with the colors and the amount of noise.
Our first attempt at processing the North America Nebula
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A Small Refractor Telescope for Nebulae
What do we think of the small telescope we used to capture NGC 7000?
A small refractor telescope may not be ideal for galaxies, globular clusters, and planetary nebulae, but it is perfect for large objects like most popular emission nebulae and some other types nebulae like the Cygnus Loop supernova remnant. These massive deep sky objects can only be easily photographed with a small telescope thanks to the wide field of view. In our case, the telescope we used had a focal length of 350mm, meaning you can fit all of these large nebulae in the frame without any issues!
If you are a nebula-lover like us, be sure to have a small telescope in your equipment!
You can watch Episode 13 of Galactic Hunter and see us use a small refractor telescope for the first time to image both M8 and M20.
NGC 7000 may be faint, but it easily becomes a very bright and colorful object when photographed with a good camera. Although we challenged ourselves to do it, we got a beautiful image of this object with a smart telescope and it floored us. Don't let the thought of an expensive astrophotography setup stop you from trying. You can do so much with what you have, and we were truly impressed by the Vespera.
It's size might be too large if you do not own a small telescope, but this does not mean you cannot image a specific area of the North America Nebula.
The Cygnus Wall is perfect for medium to large-size telescopes and its dark gases look stunning in front of the colorful background.
As for the processing, you might not be happy with your first results if you are not used to processing narrowband images. You can also capture this object with your DSLR or mirrorless camera, although you will most likely need a Ha filter to bring out the details if your camera is unmodified.
If you are not pleased with your processing results, we suggest you do not give up and keep trying when you feel motivated to reprocess all your files. You may end up with a much better image in the end!
The picture above is the starless version, which also looks fantastic!
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