Astrophotography Targets for August

M8 Lagoon NebuladnSgr 18H 3.8m -24°23'690' × 40'Beginner
M16 Eagle NebuladnSer 18H 18.8m -13°47'6.47'Beginner
M17dnSgr 18H 20.8m -16°11'711'Beginner
M20 Trifid NebuladnSgr 18H 2.6m -23°2'928'Beginner
M27 Dumbbell NebulapnVul 19H 59.6m +22°43'7.48' × 5.7'Beginner
M57 Ring NebulapnLyr 18H 53.6m +33°2'8.81.4' × 1'Beginner
M24 Sagittarius Star CloudmwSgr 18H 16.9m -18°29'4.690'Intermediate
NGC 6572pnOph 18H 12.1m +6°51'90.1'Advanced
NGC 6781pnAql 19H 18.5m +6°32'11.81.9' × 1.8'Advanced
NGC 6818pnSgr 19H 43.96m -14°9.18'9.30.4' × 0.3'Advanced
NGC 6826pnCyg 19H 44.8m +50°31.5'8.50.5' × 0.4'Advanced
George Moromisato
1 August 2010

If you ever wanted to be an astrophotographer, August is the perfect month to start. In the Northern Hemisphere, August nights are warm and generally clear, at least in many parts of the Western United States. More importantly, August has more beginner-level objects than any other month of the year.

Vast Nebulae

The best is probably M8, also known as the Lagoon Nebula. It is a very large and nearby diffuse nebula in the Sagittarius constellations. At a dark site you might even be able to see M8 with the naked eye, but even from a suburban backyard you should be able to capture beautiful images of it. You must overcome two challenges, however: first, M8 never rises far above the horizon, so you will need a clear view of the southern skies; and second, M8 is 90 arcminutes long (the Full Moon is only 30 arcminutes) so you will need a short focal length telescope.

The popular Trifid Nebula, labeled M20 by Charles Messier, is not too far from the Lagoon Nebula. This beautiful object is fainter and smaller than M8, but its blend of red emission gasses and blue reflection clouds makes it more interesting to my eyes.


Also nearby is M16, made famous by the awe-inspiring "Pillars of Creation" image from the Hubble Space Telescope. M16 is smaller than the Lagoon Nebula, but it is almost as bright, making it very easy to capture. Advanced amateurs may want to capture M16 with narrowband filters to better reproduce (or at least evoke) the iconic Hubble image.

Brilliant Planetaries

M27August also has its share of easy-to-capture planetary nebulae. M27 is possibly the most rewarding, since it is large, bright, and colorful. Also known as the Dumbbell Nebula, M27 exhibits the typical teal color indicative of doubly ionized oxygen molecules (confusingly called OIII). You'll find it easy to capture the contrast of this bright teal against the red of the nebula's ionized hydrogen.

M57 is another beautiful August planetary. Your challenge in capturing this nebula is its small size: you will need a good deal of magnification to reveal the subtle details in this ghostly ring.

All five of the above objects are suitable for beginners and many will reveal great detail even with relatively short exposures.