Skies By Africa

Images of the Heavens By Eric Africa

M78, Reflection Nebula in Orion

This busy area is located in the constellation Orion, with reflection nebula Messier 78 at the center. M78 is about 1,600 light-years away and not too far (from our perspective) from the famous Horsehead Nebula. Reflection nebulae such as M78 are dust clouds that reflect the light from bright stars in their vicinity. Reflection nebulae are blue in color for the same reason that the Earth’s daytime sky is blue: the dust preferentially scatters blue light in a manner similar to the Earth’s atmosphere.

This region is also the site of a recent amateur discovery. In February 2004, Jay McNeil of Paducah, Kentucky, was trying out a new telescope and CCD camera, and aimed this at M78 for a test shot. Being an astute observer, he spotted something in his image was not in other photos of the area. The object, which is a variable nebula, has been dubbed McNeil’s Nebula.
Constellation: Orion
When Visible: December - April
Distance: 1,300 Light-years
Date Imaged:  January 2011
Location: Rancho Hidalgo, Animas, NM
Exposure Details:
L: 9 x 10 Minutes Binned 1x1
R: 6 x 10 Minutes Binned 1x1
G: 6 x 10 Minutes Binned 1x1
B: 6 x 10 Minutes Binned 1x1
Equipment Used:  Takahashi TOA-130F on an Astro-Physics AP1200GTO mount. SBIG STL-6303E camera with FW8-STL filter wheel and Astrodon filters. Robofocus focuser and Astrodon Takometer rotator.
Acquisition Software : MaximDL 5, TheSky6, CCDAutopilot 4, FocusMax, Takometer Controller
Processing Software: MaximDL, Photoshop CS, Carboni Actions, Croman GradientXterminator, IrFanView