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The Pleiades

Messier 45, The Pleiades is a bright blue nebula in the winter sky

Photographing Messier 45 – The Pleiades

If you’re a lover of astrophotography, you won’t want to miss the opportunity to photograph the beautiful Pleiades star cluster during the cold winter months. The Pleiades, also known as the Seven Sisters or Messier 45, is one of the most beautiful and easily recognizable star clusters in the night sky, with a distinctive blue color and a compact arrangement of stars. It’s one of my favourite targets over the long winter, and revisit it often.

For those without telescopes, the Pleiades offers budding Astrophotographers an easy target to find and shoot with just a regular DSLR and suitable camera lens. To capture the Pleiades, you’ll need to prepare carefully and have some essential equipment. Here are some tips to help you get the best possible shot:

  1. Find the right location: Look for a dark sky location where light pollution is minimal. You’ll need to be away from city lights and other sources of artificial light that can interfere with your image. A hilltop or an open field can be a good location to set up your camera and equipment.
  2. Use a tripod: It’s essential to have a sturdy tripod to keep your camera steady while taking long exposures. A tripod will also help you to position your camera precisely.
  3. Choose the right lens: A wide-angle lens with a low f-stop is the best choice for capturing the Pleiades. A lens with an aperture of f/2.8 or lower will let in enough light to create a bright and sharp image.
  4. Use manual focus: The Pleiades are at a distance of about 444 light-years, and autofocus might not be accurate enough to capture them sharply. Set your camera to manual focus and use the live view to focus on a bright star in the cluster.
  5. Set the exposure: The right exposure settings depend on your camera and lens, but a good starting point is to use an ISO of 1600 or higher, a shutter speed of 15-30 seconds, and an aperture of f/2.8 or lower. Take some test shots and adjust the settings as needed to get the best exposure.
  6. Take multiple shots: Take several shots of the Pleiades, as stacking them can improve the image quality and reduce noise.
  7. Experiment with processing: Once you’ve captured the Pleiades, you can use image processing software to enhance the colors and details. Adjusting the contrast, brightness, and color saturation can bring out the details in the stars and the nebulosity surrounding them.

Photographing the Pleiades can be a rewarding experience, but it requires patience and some preparation. Be sure to dress warmly, as winter nights can be chilly, and take your time to set up your equipment and fine-tune your settings. With a little practice and some trial and error, you can capture a stunning image of the Pleiades that you’ll be proud to show off to your friends and family.

About the Pleiades

The Pleiades are one of the most recognizable objects in the night sky, and it has been known and admired by humans for thousands of years. The cluster contains several hundred stars, with the brightest ones visible to the naked eye. The Pleiades are often described as having a distinctive blue color, which makes them stand out against the blackness of the night sky.

The blue color of the Pleiades is due to the hot, young stars that make up the cluster. These stars are known as “blue giants” and are much hotter than our own Sun. They emit a lot of ultraviolet radiation, which causes the surrounding gas and dust to glow with a blue hue. The blue color is most prominent in the reflection nebulae that surround the brightest stars in the cluster.

The reflection nebulae are clouds of gas and dust that reflect the light from nearby stars, much like a mirror reflects light. The gas and dust in the nebulae absorb some of the blue light from the stars and scatter it in all directions, creating a blue glow that we can see from Earth. The dust in the nebulae also reflects the light of other colors, which is why the stars in the Pleiades appear to have a slight rainbow hue.

The blue color of the Pleiades is a testament to the power and beauty of the universe. It is a reminder that the stars are not just tiny points of light in the sky, but are massive, dynamic objects that can shape the world around them. The Pleiades have captured the imagination of humans for thousands of years, and their beauty and mystery continue to inspire us to this day. Whether viewed through a telescope or simply gazed at with the naked eye, the Pleiades are a wonder of the cosmos that will never cease to amaze and captivate us.

Capture Details

Imaging Telescopes: Celestron RASA 8″
Imaging Cameras: QHY 268c
Mounts: Celestron CGX
Accessories: QHY Polemaster
Software: NINA – Nighttime Imaging ‘N’ Astronomy
Guiding Telescopes: 
Guiding Cameras: ZWO ASI120mm Mini Mono

Light Frames: 35 x 90 second
Flat Frames: 20
Gain: 60