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Spectacular Horsehead Nebula Photograph Almost Good Enough to Rival Hubble



Photography is hardly a cheap hobby to pick up, but even within photography, some branches are more expensive than others. And ranking pretty close to the ‘most expensive’ side of that line is astrophotography… at least the kind that will yield incredible photos like the one you see here by photographer Mike Hankey.

The amount of work that went into capturing this photograph is staggering. Almost 38 hours of exposure time was required over 7 different channels over the course of 20 nights. The final image is a combination of exposures captured in narrow band (Hydrogen Alpha, Oxygen Two and Sulfur Three), RGB (Red, Green and Blue) and Luminance (clear) filters.

Here’s the full exposure (click here for high-resolution):


The rig Hankey uses to capture these kinds of mind-blowing exposures is worth upwards of $12,000, and the process is anything but simple. So while we could explain it all ourselves and do a less than adequate job of it, we’ll let Redditor PixInsightFTW do the honors via this informative how-to/explanation.

A big thank you to Mike for turning us on to this explanation when we asked permission to share his photograph:


Here’s a breakdown of the specific gear used:

  • Camera: Apogee U16M
  • Guider: SBIG 402 with MMOAG Off Axis Guider
  • Telescope: RCOS 14.5
  • Mount: Paramount ME
  • Software: The SkyX, MaximDL, FocusMax, CCDAutoPilot, CCDStack, Photoshop

As the infographic points out, you don’t need a rig worth tens of thousands of dollars to take phenomenal astrophotographs. There are any number of tracking mounts for DSLRs available for purchase, and you can even build your own by following the instructions in this post.

Of course, you probably won’t be capturing anything quite as spectacular as this until you’ve invested a significant amount of money and (much more importantly) practice. But if you want to start without breaking the bank, there are options.

To see more of Hankey’s amazing work, check out a full-res version of the amazing Horsehead Nebula photo and learn more about how he captures the images he does, be sure to visit his website by clicking here. Also, feel free to drop any questions you don’t find answers to in the comments, and we’ll pass them along to Mike!

Image credits: Photograph by Mike Hankey and used with permission.