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How Two Astrophotographers Discovered a New Nebula

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“It is a very common misconception amongst people that the night sky has been explored in its entirety by the great professional space observatories like James Webb, Hubble, NASA, and ESA. People think there is nothing left for the average person to go out and discover in space. But this couldn’t be further from the truth,” says astrophotographer Bray Falls.

“In fact, there is so much left to be found that one could literally point a telescope at random spots in the sky and discover an entirely new and unknown nebula, and that’s exactly what me and my friend recently did,” Falls continues.

Alongside fellow astrophotographer Chester Hall-Fernandez, Falls found a new nebula in the Circinus constellation. Falls and Hall-Fernandez have dubbed their discovery FallFer1: The Pistachio Nebula.

“FalFer1 is a medium-sized [Oiii] nebula in a very quiet part of the southern Milky Way,” Falls explains on Astrobin. Falls and Hall-Fernandez teamed up in December while Hall-Fernandez, who is only 20 years old, was at Mount John Observatory in New Zealand as part of an engineering internship.

Hall-Fernandez performed a sky survey at the observatory using a specialized cooled astro camera and a wide-angle DSLR lens. After spotting an aberration in the survey indicating the existence of a nebula, Falls and Hall-Fernandez scoured major catalogs to see if the possible nebula had been spotted before. It hadn’t.

Using his remote-controlled telescope in Namibia, Falls gathered a 70-hour exposure of the object. “As the exposure increased, it became clear that the nebula followed a very similar morphology to recent [Oiii] discoveries,” Falls explains. PetaPixel interviewed Falls earlier this year about another of his Oiii nebula discoveries and to learn more about his astrophotography.

“One thing we were surprised by, was how bright the nebula was in [Oiii]. The starless RGB image even showed the faintest hint of the nebula. However, due to the lack of any bright Ha in the nebula, it has been hidden from surveys until now,” Falls explains.

While it takes experience, determination, and specialized equipment to discover a new nebula like Falls and Hall-Fernandez have, it is something that amateur astrophotographers can achieve. There is so much left to discover.

For people hoping to learn more about astrophotography equipment and processing, Bray Falls offers courses, tutorials, and workshops. More of Chester Hall-Fernandez’s astrophotography is available on Instagram.

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