M20 – Trifid Nebula
The Trifid nebula is a colorful combination of nebulae types that unite to create a celestial work of art. This object is a true deep sky favorite of mine, and worthy of extra attention through any telescope. The version below was taken at the 2017 Cherry Springs Star Party using my primary deep sky astrophotography setup.
In June 2018, I captured the Trifid Nebula once more, this time using an Explore Scientific ED140 refractor. The photo was captured under the dark skies of Cherry Springs, with increased resolution and detail due to the larger aperture of the telescope. You can have a look at the equipment I used for the photo below in the following video:
The camera used was a ZWO ASI294MC-Pro One-Shot-Color cooler CMOS astronomy camera.
An earlier version of the Trifid Nebula was the subject of an astrophotography video on my YouTube channel in August 2016. This version used a similar deep sky imaging setup, but with an older Canon Rebel Xsi camera.
For a behind-the-scenes look at how I shot this nebula from my backyard, please watch the video below:
A stunning sight through a telescope
The Trifid Nebula is a fan favorite among amateur astronomers
The Trifid Nebula is also classified as NGC 6514 in the New General Catalogue. This colorful nebula is an H II region located in the busy constellation, Sagittarius. It’s “Trifid” name means ‘divided into three lobes’. This deep-sky object is a unique combination of an open star cluster; an emission nebula, a reflection nebula and a dark nebula! The prominent ‘gaps’ within the emission nebula are responsible for the “trifid” appearance.
How to find the Trifid Nebula
Through a telescope, the Trifid Nebula appears as a bright and peculiar object, and is a favorite of many amateur astronomers! To find it, you will need to point your binoculars or telescope towards the Teapot asterism in the constellation Sagittarius. The shape of the celestial teapot is a recognized star pattern, but not an official constellation. The teapot shape should become obvious to your eyes if our sky is dark enough!
From mid-northern latitudes, the Teapot lies due south, and is highest in the sky around midnight by early July. Because Sagittarius doesn’t rise very high in our Northern sky, you may have to deal with trees or other obstructions that are blocking your view. You’ll want to get somewhere with a low horizon facing South if possible.
Star-hopping from the Teapot
As seen in the star chart above, you can use the stars on the right-hand side of the Teapot asterism to star-hop over to the Trifid Nebula. It may help if you draw an imaginary line form the bottom star in the spout, through the middle of the two stars above it. You will likely notice the bright nebula known as M8 – The Lagoon Nebula first, but the Trifid is just above it. Needless to say, this portion of the Milky Way is an absolute pleasure to view through binoculars or a small telescope.
Here is a photo I snapped from my backyard in August 2015: