Astrophotography Inspiration: Photographing the Otherworldly Thor’s Helmet Nebula

To inspire everyone to take their photography to the stars with astrophotography, we’re placing the spotlight on a beautiful snap of Thor’s Helmet nebula. 

Need some astrophotography inspiration? Today’s featured stellar shot showcases one of the cosmic bodies you might want to focus your camera on: Thor’s Helmet nebula. Pali Saini, who recently shared his stunning photo on Reddit, obliged us with some details about how he made the shot.

The Moon and our home galaxy, the Milky Way, may be the first to come to mind when we speak of astrophotography. However, space is really, really big, so it’s inevitable for us to seek, study, and photograph other celestial bodies. Fortunately, our tools for astronomy and astrophotography are improving, which is encouraging for anyone who wants to take their photography to the stars.

Thor’s Helmet, also designated as NGC 2359 in the New General Catalogue, lies 11,960 light-years away from Earth. It may be hard to believe, based on photos like that by Saini, but the nebula spans 30 light-years in size. It is located in the Canis Major constellation, about eight degrees northeast of Sirius, the brightest star in the sky.

Since they’re so far away from us, photographing celestial bodies like Thor’s Helmet requires some specialized gear and technical skills. We’re fortunate to have Saini provide us with some details about his photo to provide an idea about what aspiring astrophotographers need to get into the craft:

  • Camera: ZWO ASI 294mc PRO
  • Scope: GSO RC6”
  • Guide camera: ZWO ASI 120mm-s
  • Guide scope: Orion 50/162 Guidescope
  • Filter: STC-Astro Duo Narrowband filter
  • Equatorial Mount: HEQ5PRO
  • Shot in Hydrogen alpha/Oxygen-3
  • Editing software: Pixinsight (a dedicated astrophotography software)

Saini added that his stellar snap is comprised of 150 four-minute exposures (10 hours integration time), but “honestly there weren’t exactly any challenges to overcome specifically for this target.” However, this type of photography still comes with potential problems that will need to be addressed. “But as a whole, astrophotography relies heavily on being able to troubleshoot problems — equipment not working, unstable atmospheric conditions (i.e. ‘seeing’), or more locally, the smoke from bush fires in Sydney.”

If this made you curious about Pali Saini’s astrophotography, you can find his work on Instagram (@palinathan).

Photo used with permission