The Horsehead and the Flame Nebula (a.k.a. IC 434) is a classic winter target. Living in the constellation of Orion, it’s 1 target among many other epic targets, including Barnard’s Loop, The Orion Nebula (m42), and M78.

Shooting the Horsehead

I took this wide field with my Redcat 51. The area is full of nebulosity, stars, the horsehead and the Flame Nebula.

It’s shot differently than other nebulas being it’s not a narrowband target. IC 434 is mainly LRGB broadband data with a hefty dose of Hydrogen Alpha (sometimes called HaLRGB) which creates the beautiful rich crimson backdrop. The LRGB adds to the colorful environment with an orange flame and big blue stars as well as mixing with the Ha to make it more crimson than the deep red we traditionally expect Ha to be.

While I love the outcome of this Horsehead / Flame Nebula photo, I had to jump through hoops to get it. It came in at almost 8 hrs, but I wish I had more time to get additional data. It’s lower in the sky than other targets and navigating around my backyard’s trees, houses, electric lines and other obstructions is difficult. I found a place in the yard where I’d get 3 solid hours each night. Unfortunately, there were not enough clear moonless nights to get all the data I wanted. This winter was a shit show of clouds; it seemed like any given clear night had clouds come in at some point, limiting the useful data I could capture.

Processing IC 434

I have to give a shout out to Shawn at VisibleDark for his video on how to process this. This was a new experience mixing LRGB with Ha. All the methods I tried didn’t work well such as the NBRGB script. His method worked great so I encourage you to watch the video if you are going to work on the Horsehead & Flame Nebula in Pixinsight (and you should be using Pixinsight!)

Other than the difficult hurdle of making the background come out a beautiful crimson color, there was making sure the Flame Nebula didn’t get washed out with crimson color once the photo was saturated with Ha. You want the Flame Nebula to stay its natural light red color. To achieve this, I used the GAME script which references to are also available on Visible Dark. It worked really well as a masking tool. I normally try to avoid masks at all costs, but in this case it was necessary.

I absolutely love the Horsehead Nebula. It reminds me more of a surfer riding a wave than it does a horse’s head. The rich red nebulosity that the horsehead is on looks like a wave. Although, if you zoom in to the miniature horsehead, it does indeed look like a horsehead–almost like the knight in chess. Maybe it’s a horse riding a wave? Stable Diffusion helped me out below although I couldn’t get the person off the horse which would have made this image perfect. The person looks like Sean Penn’s character in Fast Times at Ridgemount High though which makes it awesome.

Data Acquired for Horsehead Nebula

Filter Time
Antlia Red 1h 17m
Antlia Green 52m
Antlia Blue 49m
Antlia Luminance 55m
Antlia 3nm Ha 3h 50m
Total 7h 43m

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