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Astrophotography: The Lagoon Nebula

The Lagoon Nebula (Messier 8) is the biggest and brightest nebula within the dazzling constellation Sagittarius. M8 is a thrilling deep sky astrophotography target using a DSLR and telescope.

In the Northern Hemisphere, the summer months of June through August are the best time to observe and photograph the Lagoon Nebula.

lagoon nebula

Messier 8 – The Lagoon Nebula in Sagittarius

Under moderately dark skies, the Lagoon Nebula is visible in binoculars or a small telescope.

The Lagoon nebula is one of those targets that has the power to inspire others to get started in astrophotography.  The bright colors and dynamic combination of stars and hydrogen gas in this emission nebula invoke emotions that few other deep sky objects can.

The photo above was captured from my backyard in the city using a Canon DSLR camera.

good-astrophotography-camera

The Canon Rebel Xsi/450D used to photograph the Lagoon nebula is still a very good camera for astrophotography. I have since upgraded to a Canon T3i/600D DSLR, but used models of the aging 450D can still be found on the used market.





Astrophotography: Lagoon Nebula

The image at the top of this page was captured using my deep sky imaging setup in the backyard. Below you will find the camera equipment and settings used to produce my final image.

Photo Details

Dates Acquired: June 30, July 2, July 3, 2016
Total Exposure: 2 Hours, 15 Minutes (44 Frames @ ISO 1600)
Mount: Sky-Watcher HEQ-5 Pro
Camera: Canon Xsi/450D (modified)
Telescope: Explore Scientific ED102 CF
Guide Scope: Orion Mini 50mm
Guide Camera: Meade DSI Pro II

Guided with PHD Guiding
Stacked in Deep Sky Stacker
Processed in Adobe Photoshop CC

My Basic Deep Sky Imaging Setup

The Lagoon Nebula is so bright, even a short exposures through a telescope will reveal the glowing pink nebulosity within the core.

Through a Backyard Telescope

astrophotography telescope

I spent multiple nights in my backyard photographing this brilliant nebula in June/July 2016.  From my latitude in Ontario, Canada, the Lagoon Nebula does not rise very high in the sky for imaging.

This means that there is more turbulence and distortion to “shoot through” in the air.

As a matter of fact, Messier 8 just barely cleared my south side fence when I captured this image.  The DSO’s in the Milky Way core are only available for photographing for a short window of time in the summer, so all of my attention resides in this rich area until Fall.

This is the second nebula I photographed with the Explore Scientific ED102 telescope.  (Purchased in May 2016)




The additional focal length helped bring out this nebula’s fine details and produced a version much more intense than my previous attempt last summer using the ED80.  Wide field refractor telescopes have the added benefit of capturing the Cat’s Paw Nebula and the Trifid Nebula within the same field of view.

Image Processing

astrophotography image processing

M8 happens to be the subject of my deep sky image processing tutorial. Each step of my processing workflow is outlined in detail from the original stack to the final image.  Here is an overview of the post-processing techniques used on the image:

  • Image Crop
  • Levels Adjustment
  • Gradient Removal
  • Curves Adjustment
  • Contrast Enhancement
  • Increase Star Color
  • Make Stars Smaller

These actions were accomplished using DeepSkyStacker and Adobe Photoshop. For a list of all of the software I use for astrophotography, visit the resources page.  Feel free to follow along with the complete tutorial:

Astrophotography Processing Tutorial: Lagoon Nebula.

Location of the Lagoon Nebula

The Lagoon Nebula stands out as a glowing pink region deep within the rich starfields of the Milky Way.

About the Lagoon Nebula

The Lagoon Nebula is a large, bright interstellar cloud in the constellation Sagittarius. This emission nebula is also classified as an H II region. An OIII filter can be useful for imaging nebulae like M8, although I have not ventured into that territory myself as of yet.

The Lagoon Nebula is estimated to be between 4,000-6,000 light-years from the Earth. As you can see in my image above, it appears pink in long-exposure photographs but is a pale gray to anyone looking through binoculars or a telescope.

Lagoon Nebula wide field

A wide field image through my 80mm telescope

This interstellar cloud gets its name from the dark lane that passes through the middle of the nebula like a sandbar.  The bright outer regions on each side make it appear as if it were a lagoon.

Using a telescope or binoculars

The image below should give you an idea of what to expect when viewing the Lagoon Nebula through a telescope or a pair of binoculars. The brightness and detail observed will be determined by your viewing conditions.

Lagoon Nebula through a telescope or binoculars

 

The Lagoon Nebula is just barely visible to the unaided eye under good conditions.  From my backyard, I can easily spot it in a pair of binoculars.

It is one of only two star-forming nebulae visible to the naked eye from mid-northern latitudes.  Using binoculars or a small telescope, it will appear as a distinct oval cloudlike patch with a defined glowing core. The open cluster of stars (NGC 6530) can be seen within the nebula.


On a warm summers night, this is one of my favorite targets to observe using my Celestron SkyMaster 15 x 70 binoculars.

M8 and M20 – A Close Nebula Pairing:

The Lagoon and Trifid Nebula

M8 and M20 in Sagittarius

The image above was captured in August 2015 from my backyard in St. Catharines, Ontario.  The Lagoon and Trifid Nebula appear very close together in the constellation Sagittarius, allowing for a spectacular photography opportunity with a wide field telescope.

The light-pollution is horrible where I live, but I was able to block out much of it with the IDAS light pollution suppression filter in my Canon Xsi.

I am excited to give this target another shot using the ASI071MC-Cool on loan from Ontario Telescope & Accessories! For my latest astrophotography tips, tutorials and advice, be sure to follow AstroBackyard on Facebook.

Related Posts:

Astrophotography with a Canon Rebel DSLR

Online Resources:

Messier 8 is the Lagoon Nebula – EarthSky

The Deep Lagoon – APOD