Photographing The Soul Nebula

The Soul Nebula (Westerhout 5, Sharpless 2-199, LBN 667) is a large emission nebula located in the constellation Cassiopeia.

This Nebula is often included with its nearest neighbor, creating the ‘Heart and Soul Nebula’. It is one of the brightest nebulae in the night sky. 

The apparent size of this deep-sky object from Earth makes it a fantastic deep-sky astrophotography target to photograph using a camera and telescope.

There are several small open clusters embedded within the Soul Nebula including IC 1848, which the designation of this object is often referred to.

The nebula complex is the eastern neighbor of IC 1805 (The Heart Nebula) and the two deep-sky objects are often mentioned together as the “Heart and Soul”.

Below, is an image I captured using a dedicated astrophotography camera, and narrowband filters of this object. 

The image includes 8 hours of total exposure time from my light-polluted backyard (Bortle Scale Class 6) in the city. 

The Soul Nebula

The Soul Nebula in SHO (Hubble Pallete). 8 Hours Total Exposure.

Related Article: My Astrophotography Equipment

The Soul Nebula (IC 1848, Westerhout 5)

  • Common Name: The Soul Nebula
  • Cataloged: IC 1848, Westerhourt 5, Sharpless 2-199, LBN 667
  • Constellation: Cassiopeia
  • Right ascension: 02h 55m 24s
  • Declination: +60°24’36”
  • Apparent size: 150′ x 75′
  • Distance: 6,500 light-years
  • Magnitude: 6.5

The Soul Nebula is estimated to lie approximately 6,000 light-years from Earth. This star-forming complex lies within the Perseus spiral arm of our Milky Way Galaxy. 

Often photographed together, the Heart and Soul Nebulae stretch out nearly 580 light-years across.

The wide-field image shown below was captured from my backyard using a wide-field refractor telescope, and a Canon EOS Ra camera. 

Canon EOS Ra example image

The Heart and Soul Nebulae in Cassiopeia.

The nebula on the bottom is the Heart Nebula. A beautiful deep-sky object in its own right, the Heart Nebula is designated IC 1805 and named after its resemblance to a human heart.

On top, is the Soul nebula, also known as the Embryo nebula, IC 1848 or W5.

An Emission Nebula and Star-Forming Region

The Soul Nebula is an emission nebula with an open star cluster embedded within it. It is a vast star-forming region containing clouds of dust and gas being illuminated by the light of the surrounding young stars.

Unlike our Sun (a main sequence G-type star) which is about 5 billion years old, the stars in the Heart and Soul Nebulae region are relatively young (less than a few million years old).

This nebula contains many small open star clusters, such as CR 34, CR 632.

Small emission nebulae such as IC 1871 can be isolated within the larger Soul Nebula complex, and are quite beautiful when photographed with enough magnification.

The following image was captured through a Sky-Watcher Esprit 150 refractor telescope in my backyard to isolate this region.

IC 1871

IC 1871 inside of the Soul Nebula.

The Soul Nebula gets its shape from the stellar winds of the stars embedded within it. This process creates large, dense pillars of material that have stars forming at their tips.

Where is the Soul Nebula Located?

The Soul Nebula is located in the northern hemisphere constellation Cassiopeia. To be more specific, you’ll find it between the constellations Cassiopeia and Perseus.

From our perspective on Earth, it is located close to the nearby Double Cluster in Perseus.

In the photo below, you can see how the Heart and Soul Nebulae sit well below the “W” asterism of Cassiopeia in the night sky. 

Soul Nebula location

The Location of the Soul Nebula in Cassiopeia. 

The time for observing and photographing the Soul Nebula (northern hemisphere) is in the fall.

The Heart and Soul Nebulae rise high into the sky together from late September through November. The following star chart shows where to find the Soul Nebula.

location of the Soul Nebula

I find it easiest to first locate the recognizable constellation, Cassiopeia. Then look downwards towards the Double Cluster in Perseus.

You’ll find the Soul Nebula to the Northwest of Perseus, between the 2 constellations.

In the fall (in the Northern Hemisphere), this emission nebula rises high into the sky. From my latitude, I can begin my night with the telescope pointed in a northeast direction.

Then, I can track the Soul Nebula on my equatorial telescope mount for hours before having to perform a manual meridian flip.

When it comes to long-exposure astrophotography projects, I often choose to photograph objects rising in the east. 

A light pollution filter is useful to help ignore certain wavelengths of artificial light to collect usable data.

Which Telescope to Use?

The refractor telescope I used to capture my image full image of the Soul Nebula (Radian Raptor 61) has a focal length of 275mm, which is considered to be ultra wide-field.

This is ideal for photographing large deep-sky objects such as the Heart and Soul Nebulae.

Any telescope with a shorter focal length of 250-500mm (usually, a compact refractor) should be able to capture the entire Soul Nebula in a single shot.

For a massive field of view containing the Heart and Soul Nebula, consider using a camera lens like the Rokinon 135mm F/2.

With a full-frame camera sensor, I can capture the Heart and Soul Nebulae region in its entirety. The framing of these objects will not only depend on the focal length (magnification) of your telescope but also the size of your camera sensor. I use this tool to calculate the field of view I can expect on any given target in the night sky. 

I’ve also used my William Optics Z73 refractor telescope to photograph the Soul Nebula using my DSLR camera. The focal length of this refractor is 430mm, which means that I can isolate the Soul Nebula itself from the nearby Heart Nebula.

I have had great success photographing the Soul nebula using my full-spectrum modified Canon EOS Rebel T3i DSLR with this telescope (shown below). 

Sky Watcher HEQ GoTo Mount

A William Optics Z73 Doublet Apochromatic Refractor with a DSLR Camera attached.

Astrophotography Image Processing

Capturing images of space with your camera and telescope is only one-half of the astrophotography experience. Processing the images to reveal faint structures, detail, and color is the other.

After collecting a healthy amount of data to create an image with a healthy signal-to-noise ratio, you can stretch each color channel to better reveal the details of your subject, and enhance the color. 

astrophotography workflow

Related Article: Choosing an Image Processing Software

The stacking process involves integrating several hours’ worth of exposures together, using calibration frames such as dark frames, bias frames, and flat frames to correct the image. I use a software called DeepSkyStacker to integrate and calibrate my images and create an intermediate file to process further. 

Once the intermediate file is ready to go, I bring the image into Adobe Photoshop for post-processing. StarNett++ is a useful tool to separate the stars from your image. This is handy when processing a nebula without disrupting the balance, brightness, and shape of the stars in your image.

Topaz Labs DeNoise AI is a powerful tool to use for reducing noise in your image, but it should be used carefully. I find it useful to make a detailed selection of your image before applying any noise reduction to the image. 

You can learn how to use these image processing tools to create astrophotography images like the ones in this article in my premium astrophotography image processing guide

If you would like to try processing my color data on this subject, you can do so here.

Soul Nebula

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