How can I see a nebula?

  • I've recently been seeing a bunch of pictures of nebulae and I'm just fascinated by their beauty and complexity. Is there any kind of telescope that would make it possible to view it from here on Earth?

  • pela

    pela Correct answer

    8 years ago

    Yes, indeed! Many nebulae are visible from Earth in a small and cheap telescope, and even to the naked eye (if you are standing in a sufficiently dark place).

    In fact, yesterday I was watching the Orion Nebula with my 4.5" telescope (which is worth $200 or so) from my apartment in the middle of Copenhagen.

    The term "nebula" is a bit of a… well, nebulous term, as it covers several distint phenonomena, for instance:

    • Galaxies, e.g. the Andromeda Galaxy (though this is an old expression)

    • (Open) stellar clusters, e.g. the Eagle Nebula

    • Globular clusters, e.g. 47 Tucanae

    • Planetary nebulae, e.g. the Eskimo Nebula

    • Supernova remnants, e.g. the Crab Nebula

    However, you should be aware that even in a large and expensive telescope, the nebulae do not look anything like the beautiful images you find on the internet. With your eye, you will merely see diffuse, whitish clouds. The beautiful colors arise only in images taken through telescopes with long exposure times. If you want to make such pictures, you will need a telescope with a motor (since the telescope must follow the rotation of the sky) and the possibility of attaching a camera to it.

    People are often disappointed when shown a nebula through a telescope. I think the beauty of it lies in knowing what it is that you are seeing, knowing for instance that it lies 600 lightyears away, that you are looking 600 years back in time, and that stars are right now being formed there.

    Googling something like "nebulae visible in a small telescope" should get you started. Good luck!

    Thanks for your help dude! I live in Texas so driving a little bit to find someplace that's dark with no pollution and clear skies shouldn't be a problem! Also, wordplay ftw! #DanishPeopleAreCool

    @pela has given a great answer, but I just wanted to confirm that it is totally possible to view Nebula without a lot of kit. I've only recently discovered the pleasure of looking at the Orion Nebula on these clear crisp nights in the UK (it's easy to find!). I would love to take photos of it, but that is a whole different game.

    Thanks, you're welcome. I'm actually very little of an observer, and I didn't know that the Orion Nebula was visible to the naked eye, as @Mashton mentions. Even if you don't have a telescope, you can still get very nice pictures with a normal camera on a tripod. Try with an exposure time of a few minutes. If it's longer, the motion of the sky will "draw" objects and blur the image. This can create a cool effect for stars, though, as their color becomes easily visible, and you can see the temperature: Blue stars are hot, red stars are colder.

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Content dated before 7/24/2021 11:53 AM