Running Chicken Nebula IC2944

Meet IC2944, also known as the Running Chicken Nebula. It’s a southern hemisphere deep sky object. An open cluster with an associated emission nebula found in the constellation Centaurus.

Bok globules
Bok globules within IC2944

Within this region of nebulosity is a set of Bok globules. They were discovered in IC 2944 by South African astronomer A. David Thackeray in 1950.

These globules are now known as Thackeray’s Globules.

Bok globules are isolated and relatively small dark nebulae, containing dense cosmic dust and gas from which star formation may take place.

Bok globules were first observed by astronomer Bart Bok in the 1940s.

This image was taken from Siding Spring Observatory in Australia via the iTelescope network.


  • Takahashi FSQ-ED 106mm APO refractor, F5
  • FLI Microline 16803 CCD
  • H-alpha filter
  • Mount: Paramount PME
  • Pixinsight 1.8 calibration and processing
  • Seeing and transparency excellent
  • Imaging location: Siding Spring Observatory, Australia


Return to M20 the Trifid Nebula

M20 the Trifid Nebula

Featured Astronomy Magazine online Picture of the Day, Sept 8th, 2016. 

M20 by Shawn Nielsen featured Picture of the Day at Astronomy Magazine online. September 8th, 2016.

Also featured in Amateur Astrophotography E-Magazine Aug 9th, issue #31

It’s been several years since I imaged M20 the Trifid Nebula. I decided to begin collecting new data on it in May 2016 using the remote 16″ ASA astrograph at Siding Springs Observatory. It took about two months with poor weather conditions and time. I did however manage to gather more data recently which has allowed me to at least put this image together. I’m intending to add more data to it but for now I’ve moved on to other deep sky targets.

M20 the Trifid Nebula

M20 is in the constellation of Sagittarius, the teapot. It’s approximately 5000 lightyears away from Earth. Discovered by Charles Messier on June 5, 1764.

The data used to create this image consists of narrowband (H-alpha and O3), luminance and red, green, blue colour channels. Processing was performed in Pixinsight.

The Trifid Nebula is well known among observers and astrophotographers. It’s a unique region of space that has emission nebula, reflection nebula and dark nebula all in one. Also known as M20, this H II region is located in the constellation of Sagittarius and was discovered by Charles Messier on June 5, 1764. Its name means ‘divided into three lobes’.

astrophotography image processing
A look behind the scenes as this image of the Trifid Nebula M20 was being processed in Pixinsight. Shown is the separate luminance master and the NBRGB master.

All frames were auto calibrated by the imaging system. Cosmetic correction was then applied to all frames within a group. All H-alpha frames were run through cosmetic correction, all O3 frames, all luminance and so forth. Cosmetic correction allows you to remove unwanted hot and cold pixels that may not have been entirely removed by the calibration process. This tool also allows for the removal of bad columns sometimes associated with CCD cameras.

Once cosmetic correction was done, each data set was aligned. The drizzle data was created at this point as well for later use.

Drizzle can improve your stars and image resolution when data is under sampled.
Drizzle can improve your stars and image resolution when data is under sampled. Shown is before (left) and after (right).

The next process was image integration. This stacks all of the aligned images in a data set. Once the stacking process was completed the drizzle data was applied using the drizzle integration function. Drizzle allows for correction of undersampled data. It greatly improves stars effected by pixelation and increases overall resolution.

Once all of the master stacks were created I could begin assembling the data and processing it.

The Dynamic Background Extraction tool was used to further remove any remaining gradients. Deconvolution was used to compensate for atmospheric blurring of the image details. This technique is also used for images taken with the Hubble Space Telescope.

An RGB master was created using the channel combination tool. Then the NBRGB combine script was used to integrate the RGB master with the H-alpha and O3 masters. The Luminance master was then applied to the NBRGB master.

Using the Historgram Transformation tool I went to work bringing out the appearance and details of the Trifid Nebula. This process turns an otherwise dark looking image with nothing in it, to a vibrant and pretty image of the deep sky object.

I created a range mask so only the core of the nebula could be worked on. I applied some HDRwavelet to this area of the image which helps reduce washed out areas and restore detail.

Colour saturation was applied to taste. A little curves adjustment was made to darken the background a bit more and brighten the Trifid Nebula features.

Tada! A finished imaged that required 4 hours of data acquisition and 10+ hours of processing. They do say astrophotography is one of the most difficult and demanding forms of photography and I believe them.


UPDATE, January 2019:

Since I first processed this data in 2016 I’ve learned a lot. So I went back and re-processed this M20 image. My main goal was to reduce noise better than I had. I was successful. I applied new knowledge of noise reduction in Pixinsight using the Multiscale Linear Transform tool and the TGVdenoise tool.

Here’s the newly reprocessed image…

M20 nebula re-processed Jan 2019

and this is before and after of the noise reduction…



Imaged from iTelescope remote T33 telescope at Siding Spring Observatory in Australia.

16″ F/3.5 Astro Systeme Austria (ASA) Astrograph mounted on a Paramount ME. The OTA is coupled with a large format main imaging camera and guided with a Starlight Xpress Lodestar using a custom made Off-Axis adapter.

16 megapixel Apogee Aspen CG16070 Class 1 CCD paired withan Apogee FW50-9R 9 Position Filter Wheel.

87 x 58 arcmin FoV at an image scale of 1.07 arcsec/pixel.

240min total of Hydrogen-Alpha, Oxygen III, Luminance, Red, Green and Blue channels.

Processing: Pixinsight




Tarantula Nebula NGC 2070 remote telescope astrophotography

Tarantula Nebula

A giant stellar nursery region and more than a 1000 light years wide, the Tarantula Nebula NGC 2070, is an intricate web of gas and dust. Located in the Large Magellanic Cloud (LMC), a galaxy which is 180,000 light years from Earth, it is both a visually stunning region of space and the most violent star forming region of space known to us in our local group of galaxies.

I took this image using a remote telescope in Australia at Siding Spring Observatory. This is the T33, one of iTelescope’s newest editions, an ASA 16″ astrograph paired with an Apogee 16mp CCD. It provides a wonderful field of view with striking resolution as you can see with this image.

View high res image here

Inside the Tarantula Nebula some mind blowing physics are occurring including supernova shock fronts, powerful stellar winds and intense radiation. The source of which is the cluster of massive hot stars (known as R136) located center in the nebula. This cluster of stars shapes the spidery filaments and energizes the glow of the nebula.

Many other interesting objects

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iTelescope T33 ASA 16" astrograph and 16 megapixel Apogee Aspen CG16070 Class 1 CCD
Pictured is the new iTelescope T33 ASA 16″ astrograph, 16 megapixel Apogee Aspen CG16070 Class 1 CCD on a Paramount ME. Located at Siding Spring Observatory in Australia.

This image captures a fairly large field of view. Not only is the Tarantula Nebula visible but many other extraordinary objects as well. There’s a lot happening in this image!

Tarantula Nebula NGC 2070 runaway starThe star cluster known as Hodge 301 is 20–25 million years old. The most massive stars within this cluster have exploded already in supernovae a long time ago. The light from these supernovae explosions have not reached Earth yet. It’s a future event for another generation of humans to see and record.

There are many other star clusters and also numerous smaller star forming regions (smaller compared to NGC 2070, massive beyond imagination still to us!). There’s even a runaway star known as 30 dor #016 in this image.

To see some of the other objects in and around this region of space, you can look at this very detailed annotated image of the Tarantula Nebula.

Also visible in this H-alpha narrowband image is the site of the closest supernova in modern times, Supernova 1987A, near bottom center of the frame.

The Tarantula Nebula is located in the southern constellation Dorado.

Difficulties encountered

Like any large footprint telescope, especially Newtonian designs, guiding and windy conditions can create image issues quickly. In this case with the ASA 16″ astrograph, some of the frames were effected by poor tracking. This could be due to weight imbalances that can occur depending on how the telescope is oriented by the mount for imaging a particular target. Some areas of the sky for pointing position fair better than others. I know this with my past experiences using my own Orion 10″ astrograph. It’s fairly large and I often found it tricky to perfect balance in every possible orientation. It can also act like “sail” depending on wind levels. Wind can easily disrupt guiding of larger telescopes like an ASA 16″, as opposed to more compact telescopes of the SCT or refractor designs.

I’ll be returning to the Tarantula Nebula NGC 2070 in the near future to gather more data and hopefully better guiding and less wind will be in the cards for me when I do!


Imaged from iTelescope remote T33 telescope at Siding Spring Observatory in Australia.

16″ F/3.5 Astro Systeme Austria (ASA) Astrograph mounted on a Paramount ME. The OTA is coupled with a large format main imaging camera and guided with a Starlight Xpress Lodestar using a custom made Off-Axis adapter.

16 megapixel Apogee Aspen CG16070 Class 1 CCD paired withan Apogee FW50-9R 9 Position Filter Wheel.

87 x 58 arcmin FoV at an image scale of 1.07 arcsec/pixel.

8 x 5min H-alpha (Astrodon 5nm Hydrogen-Alpha). Total 40min.

Calibration performed remotely by iTelescope system.

Processing: cosmetic correction, align, stack, stretch and HDR wavelet using Pixinsight.




Comet sails past the Helix Nebula

Comet C/2013 X1 (PanSTARRS) passing near the Helix Nebula (NGC 7293)

This image was published in Skynew Magazine (Canada), Nov/Dec 2016 issue.

A truly once in a lifetime opportunity. I was able to capture this image of Comet C/2013 X1 (PanSTARRS) passing near the Helix Nebula (NGC 7293) on its cosmic journey through space. While the comet appears from our perspective to be passing near the nebula they are in fact separated by great distance. The Helix Nebula is some 700 light years away from us.

Comet C/2013 X1 (PanSTARRS) passing near the Helix Nebula (NGC 7293)View high res PNG image here

C/2013 X1 was discovered in 2013 by PanSTARRS (The Panoramic Survey Telescope and Rapid Response System). It consists of two 1.8 m Ritchey-Chretien telescopes located at Haleakala in Hawaii that watch the sky the night sky for moving objects on a continual basis.

The comet is expected to reach it’s peak brightness in June and July 2016. It could reach 6th magnitude and be visible in binoculars if it does continue to brighten. When I took this image the comet was around magnitude 8.29 and has a bright green coma surrounding it along with an unusual split blue ion tail that is faintly visible in my image. (more data would be needed to reveal this tail better)

This is a collaboration image with fellow astrophotographer and friend Ron Brecher. I collected the data and Ron processed it. I imaged the comet and Helix early morning June 5th, 2016, from the New Mexico iTelescope remote imaging platform T20. This event was very popular with many astro-imagers from around the world. The two nights Comet C/2013 X1 would be closest to the Helix Nebula (June 4 and June 5) the scheduling was booked solid for the widefield imaging telescopes.

I was up early around 5:30am EDT on June 5th, and did my usual check-in of the iTelescope launchpad which displays among other things all of the telescopes around the world and their availability as well as weather (all sky cams) and a large day/night map. As chance would have it the T20, Takahashi FSQ106 with SBIG STL-11000M, had just completed an imaging run for someone else and it showed as available. Morning twilight was coming fast though for New Mexico which is 2 hours behind my EDT time. The race to beat dawn was on!

I quickly created a script which tells the telescope where to point, how many and length of exposures to take, what filters to use and so forth. Given the slim timing I had, I went with an 8min total data of LRGB. While it’s not a lot of data to work with for astro-image processing it certainly yielded a pleasing result, IMO, given the circumstances.

Once the telescope had finished the imaging run, and the data files were uploaded to the iTelescope server, I was able to download them. I passed these files on to friend Ron Brecher who I thought would enjoy a quick and easy process of this astro data and a very unique event in the night sky.

It’s fantastic to have access to telescopes around the world like this. Where I’m located in Kitchener, ON, it was cloudy and raining the morning I took this data from New Mexico. If it wasn’t for these remote imaging setups, I’d have missed the opportunity to capture this moment in space and time. A wonderful image to add to my (and Ron’s) ongoing adventures imaging the visible dark.

Clear skies!

The fighting dragons of Ara NGC 6188

Fighting Dragons of Ara NGC 6188

Featured in Sky and Telescope Magazine, October 2016.

NGC 6188 by Shawn Nielsen featured in Sky and Telescope Magazine, October 2016 issue

Returning to Siding Spring Observatory in the southern hemisphere, I decided to image a region of space referred to as the fighting dragons of Ara NGC 6188. It’s a very stunning emission nebula located 4000 light years away from our Earth.

Fighting Dragons of Ara NGC 6188View high res

This emission nebula is sculpted by massive young stars that that formed there recently. Some of these stars are mere infants in the grand design of the universe, being only a few million years old. The open cluster (NGC 6193) just off center left in this image is fueling the reflection nebulosity within NGC 6188 next to it. The open cluster consists of 27 stars and they sculpt the dark shapes and create stellar winds and intense ultraviolet radiation that powers the nebula’s glow.

The fighting dragons of Ara
I’ve cropped and rotated the image so it is easier to see the fighting dragons of Ara within the emission nebula of NGC 6188. To the lower left is planetary nebula NGC 6164,

This narrowband image was taken using three different filters also known as the Hubble palette. The red channel is ionized Sulfur (SII), the green channel is ionized Hydrogen (H-alpha) and the blue channel is ionized Oxygen (OIII).

There are many interesting objects in and around NGC 6188. It’s a region of space with emission nebula, an open cluster creating reflection nebulosity and planetary nebula NGC 6164 that was created by one of the O-type stars in this region space. This planetary nebula has an interesting gaseous cloud and halo surrounding it along with its central bright star.

I think NGC 6188 has a scifi fantasy painting quality to it when captured in Ha, O3 and S2. What do you think?


Takahashi FSQ ED 106mm refractor at F5.0 (530mm)

SBIG STL-11000M CCD (10.7 mega pixels)

Paramount ME EQ mount

Maxim DL Pro 5 for camera control, acquistion and guiding. Focusmax for autofocusing.

12 x 5min Ha / 12 x5min O3 / 12 x 5min S2 (not used) – 3 hours total data.

Imaged remotely using the iTelescope T12 and T8 at the Siding Springs Observatory in Australia.

Processed in Pixinsight, using synthetic luminance channel created from the narrowband channels.

Last look at the Orion Nebula for another season

Orion Nebula M42

Like old friends coming and going, so do the stars, constellations and deep sky objects of the various seasons. For Winter one of the most popular objects for both visual stargazers and astrophotographers is the Orion Nebula, designated as M42.

View high resolution image here

The Orion Nebula along with the Running Man Nebula (NGC 1977 beside it) is high in the south-west sky as darkness falls. It’s situated just below the famous belt of Orion of the Hunter, marked by three bright stars in a row, and is even visible with the naked eye from suburban locations with moderate light pollution.

Looking at night sky Orion constellationI’ve watched the constellation of Orion and M42 return year after year for nearly four decades now. Rising in the east during late Fall in the wee hours of the morning and on to it’s grand display high in the south-east and south, early evenings of the Winter months. Spring is here now though in the Northern Hemisphere and the month of April just a couple days away. My old friend is nearing departure for another season.

So I thought I’d take a last look and last image of the Orion Nebula while it was still positioned well enough in the early evenings of late March. It never disappoints that’s for sure!

This image is a combination of H-alpha, red, green and blue data. It was processed completely in Pixinsight. Those observant readers will notice that I did not mention any “luminance” data for this image. That’s because I didn’t take any. I used astrophotographer Ron Brecher’s method of creating and applying a synthetic luminance to the image which not only works quite well but means I can save some imaging time or apply more time to the Ha, R-G-B data acquisition, depending on how you want to look at.

There’s an amazing mix of physical and optical processes occurring when looking at an image of the Orion Nebula including atomic emission, Rayleigh scattering, reflection and absorption of light, that go on in this star forming region.



Takahashi FSQ ED 106mm refractor at F5.0 (530mm)

SBIG STL-11000M CCD (10.7 mega pixels)

Paramount ME EQ mount

Maxim DL Pro 5 for camera control, acquistion and guiding. Focusmax.

6 x 5min Ha,  3 x 5min Red, 6 x 1min Red, 9 x 1min Green, 9 x 1min Blue / 1-hour 10-minutes total data

Processed in Pixinsight

Location: New Mexico

NGC 3372 Eta Carinae Nebula in Ha, O3

NGC 3372 Eta Carina Nebula

The Eta Carinae Nebula, designated NGC 3372, is a southern hemisphere night sky object. It is quite prominent and easily visible to the unaided eye high in the south this time of year. This image is a collaboration between myself and fellow astrophotographer and friend, Ron Brecher (

NGC 3372 Eta Carina Nebula

This image was featured in Skynews Magazine (Canada), November-December issue

While it’s been cloudy for me here the past several months in Kitchener, Ontario,  I decided to continue the passion I have for photographing the night sky, and acquire data using remote dark sky telescopes in New Mexico and Australia.

Takahashie FSQ 106 astrophotography telescope at Siding Springs Observatory in Australia
The Takahashi FSQ 106 refractor telescope used to take this image of the Eta Carinae Nebula. Attached to it is an SBIG STL-11000M CCD camera. Seen here on a Paramount ME.

This image of the Eta Carinae Nebula was acquired from the Siding Springs Observatory in Australia, using the iTelescope T12, during the early morning hours of February 18th, 2016.

The Eta Carinae Nebula, also known as the Great Nebula in Carina, is located approximately 6500 to 10,000 light year away from Earth in the constellation of Carina. It is one of the largest diffuse nebulae in our night skies with an apparent magnitude of 1. It is easily visible to the naked eye much like M42 The Orion Nebula.

There is an immense difference between light polluted night skies of cities and towns and these remote dark skies. Not only are objects not washed out by light pollution, they are quite bright and have a lot of contrast against the blackness of space when imaging them. This also helps with the quality of the image data being recorded by the camera sensor. A much better signal to noise ratio which allows more and finer details of the objects to be photographed.

What’s really fabulous though is the image was obtained with the Moon being 89% illuminated. Where regular LRGB imaging may not be possible with the Moon so bright in the night sky, narrowband filters allow you to continue your astrophotography addiction! At the time this image was taken on Feb 18th, the Moon in the southern hemisphere was in the NW part of the sky. This is behind the scope and camera so moonlight wasn’t shining directly into it, which also helps when imaging with the Moon up.

Remote imaging from the southern hemisphere has opened up a whole new ocean of night sky jewels for me to photograph during the cloudy and often bitterly cold Winter months here in Ontario, Canada.

Even more remarkable is it is the result of just 30 minutes of data! 15 minutes through an H-alpha filter and 15 minutes through an O3 filter. Not only do the emission nebula features jump out but the dark nebula are also quite vivid and rich in detail.


Takahashi FSQ ED 106mm refractor at F5.0 (530mm)

SBIG STL-11000M CCD (10.7 mega pixels)

Paramount ME EQ mount

Maxim DL Pro 5 for camera control, acquistion and guiding. Focusmax.

3 x 5min Ha and 3 x5min O3 / 30min total data.

Processed in Pixinsight by Ron Brecher and Shawn Nielsen.

Imaged remotely using the iTelescope T12 at the Siding Springs Observatory in Australia.