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NGC 1499 – California Nebula

The California Nebula is a colorful emission nebula located in the constellation Perseus. This large, bright, pinkish-red nebula gets its name from the US state that it resembles in shape. It’s shape and bright red color is not seen visually, these features are only revealed through long-exposure astrophotography.

The California Nebula is designated NGC 1499 in the new general catalog.  The most noticeable characteristic of this nebula is its red color created by its hydrogen composition.

The California Nebula is designated NGC 1499 in the new general catalog.  The most noticeable characteristic of this nebula is its red color created by its hydrogen composition.  Similar nebulae include the North America Nebula and the Rosette Nebula.

The California Nebula

California Nebula in HaRGB

NGC 1499 – The California Nebula

My latest version of the California Nebula includes H-Alpha data collected with a modified Canon T3i and an Astronomik 12nm Ha Filter.

I used an image processing technique that involves creating a HaRGB composite.  By using the Ha exposures as a luminance layer in Photoshop, more details in the nebulosity can be obtained.

To produce the realistic color in the California Nebula, I used the unmodified RGB data collected with my Canon 450D back in October of 2014.

To learn how to combine H-Alpha with color images to create a HaRGB composite, please visit the tutorial here:

Tutorial: Create a HaRGB Composite in Photoshop

 Here is the detail captured with an Astronomik 12nm Ha Filter installed in the Canon T3i:

California Nebula in H-Alpha

The photo above shows the California Nebula in Hydrogen alpha only (which is why it appears black and white). 1 hour of total exposure time was collected to produce the final image.

Astrophotography – Image Processing

I registered and stacked the 4-minute subs in Deep Sky Stacker, using dark frames to reduce the noise.  I then processed the image using Adobe Photoshop and combined the image with my existing RGB version.

Adding H-Alpha to your existing RGB images taken with a DSLR camera.  It can really improve the overall detail and contrast of the nebula.  It will also reduce the size of the stars in your image, which is a nice bonus if you ask me.  The video below shows you exactly how I processed my Image of the California Nebula:


RGB Image Details

Telescope: Explore Scientific ED80 with WO Flat III 0.8x FR/FF
Mount: Sky-Watcher HEQ5 Pro Synscan
Guiding: Meade DSI Pro II and PHD Guiding
Guide Scope: Orion Mini 50mm
Camera: Canon EOS 450D (Modified)
ISO: 1600

Exposure: 3 hours (36 x 300s)
Processing Software: Deep Sky Stacker, Photoshop CC
Support Files: 15 darks

Find the California Nebula in binoculars

NGC 1499, or the California Nebula as amateur astrophotographers prefer to call it resides in the popular constellation of Perseus.  A great way to find your way over to this nebula is by starting from Messier 45, the Pleiades.  You can then move your binoculars across the night sky until you reach the bright star Menkib.  The Nebula is just north of that star.


California Nebula location

California Nebula in Perseus


Remember that this object is very faint and quite large. Field of view is more important than aperture to observe this nebula visually. Your best chance at finding NGC 1499 is to use binoculars or a telescope with a wide field of view, and low-power eyepiece. Ideally, this would be during new moon, from a dark location, and while the nebula is high overhead.

Facts about the California Nebula

This deep-sky astrophotography object is a cosmic cloud of hydrogen gas located in the Orion Arm of the Milky Way.  Our own Sun also resides in this neighborhood of the Universe, only a short 1,500 light years away.  APOD describes the composition of this nebula well by saying

“the most prominent glow of the California Nebula is the red light characteristic of hydrogen atoms recombining with long lost electrons, stripped away (ionized) by energetic starlight. The star most likely providing the energetic starlight that ionizes much of the nebular gas is the bright, hot, bluish Xi Persei just to the right of the nebula.”

View my photography equipment

Photographing and Processing this Nebula

This nebula comes to life when imaged with a DSLR camera modified for astrophotography, or a filtered CCD camera.  I attempted to image NGC 1499 several times with a stock Canon DSLR with poor results. Removing the IR cut filter from my Canon 450D allowed my to capture the structure and color of this object.

NGC 1499 Photo with DSLR Camera

A single 5-minute exposure of NGC 1499

The California Nebula is a large deep-sky object, so you will need a wide field of view to capture the entire nebula in a single frame.  Many amateur astrophotographers tackle this challenge by shooting the California Nebula with a telephoto camera lens, such as a 300mm f/4.  As seen in this incredible image featured on APOD in January 2016, I did not include the entire nebula in my image!  The nebulosity continues up past the top of my image.

Image Processing NGC 1499

Compare the single frame to the stacked image of over 2 hours and processing

As for processing the image, I paid extra attention to star size. I made sure not to stretch the size and intensity of the stars when stretching the nebulosity data using curves in photoshop. In my opinion, larger, more defined emission nebulae such as the California Nebula look better without a sea of bright stars surrounding it.

If you care to learn more about my image processing and stacking process, you can watch this astrophotography video tutorial.


The Constellation Perseus – EarthSky