Many times I have tried to view the Flame Nebula by eye with my Orion XT10i Dobsonian, but without success (I keep thinking “It must be there, surely I should be able to see it!?”).
In professional photographs The Flame looks reasonably bright when compared to very faint nebula like the Horsehead, and it doesn’t look that much fainter than parts of the great Orion Nebula (M42), which I can easily observe with the XT10i.
So when I recently got my C6-SGT SCT telescope working with my SPC900NC webcam I thought it would be interesting to see if it was sensitive enough to capture The Flame, and below you can see the result.
The Flame Nebula (NGC 2024) is an emission nebula in the constellation Orion. It is about 900 to 1,500 light-years away. The bright star Alnitak (ζ Ori), which is the easternmost star in Orion’s Belt, shines energetic ultraviolet light into the Flame and this ejects electrons away from the great clouds of hydrogen gas that reside there. The glow results when the electrons and ionized hydrogen recombine. Dark gas and dust lies in front of the bright part of the nebula which causes the dark network that appears in the center of the glowing gas.
Click the picture for a larger version, then hit Back when done.
Out of interest I have tried Googling for images of The Flame that other amateurs might have taken using an SPC900NC, but generally all results I have found are where people are using this webcam only for auto-guiding on a bright star, and instead have used a DSLR or expensive CCD camera for the actual image. Of course their images are superior in quality, but I would be interested to know whether anyone else has captured the Flame with an SPC900NC?
The image shown above was created from just 6 x 2 minute exposures (plus darks, flat and bias frames) stacked, aligned and post-processed in Nebulosity, and then the detail teased out using Photoshop.
I didn’t fancy trying to take many more exposures as this was simply a test to see whether the long exposures with my modified webcam would show anything at all, but when I could just make out the wispy detail (against a background of skyglow), in a single 120sec exposure, I thought it worth a quick try to see how stacking and processing could enhance the basic image. I expect the f/3.3 Meade focal reducer helped bring in more light for the photograph.
Overall I am very pleased that I have managed to image NGC2024, and this proves that it is possible to get satisfying results from such a humble webcam! Of course bringing out the nebula severely over-exposes Alnitak.
150mm C6-SGT with f/3.3 Meade Focal Reducer, SPC900NC/LX (640×480) and WxAstrocapture, unguided
6×120s lights, darks-bias, flats-bias, Nebulosity, Photoshop (Starspikes Pro plugin)