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Can You See Nebula With A Telescope? [What Can You Expect]

If you are considering purchasing a telescope, one of the first questions you may ask is “what will I be able to observe through it?”. When I was looking for my first scope, I wondered exactly the same; particularly if I could see Deep Sky Objects like Nebulas and Galaxies. I undertook a lot of research to identify what was possible and I’d like to provide that information to you today.

So, can you see Nebula with a telescope? It is possible to observe most Nebulas with a Telescope, but you will not be able to observe them in color and with close detail like you can with say, Planets. A Nebula will typically appear in shades of grey through a scope, however the higher the Aperture of the scope the greater the clarity and the more you will be able to see.

If you are looking to observe Deep Sky Objects and Nebulas in particular, then you are going to need a telescope of 6″ in Aperture, at least.

If you are interested in learning more about Nebulas, viewing them through a scope, which ones you will be able to see, and further information keep reading.

But firstly, what are they exactly?

What Are Nebulas?

A Nebula is a cloud of dust and/or collection of gasses (usually Hydrogen, Helium, and other Ionized Gases) that form together and appear in outer space.

They are visible as a distinct bright patch or as a dark silhouette against another luminous matter.

Nebulas range but are vast in size – the largest are hundreds of light-years in diameter.

Whilst there are many variants of Nebula, they can be commonly classified into these types:

  1. Diffuse – these are vast, extended and there are no clear boundaries to where they start and stop. In other words they appear ‘spread out’,
  2. Planetary – the remains from a Steller Evolution of a planet. Usually, it will appear ring-shaped due to the expansion gas around an aging star.
  3. Supernova – the structure resulting from the explosion of a star.

What Causes Nebulas?

Nebulas become visible from here on Earth due to few different reasons, here are the main two:

  1. Mixing and interaction of gas, dust and other materials,
  2. The result of supernova explosions.

Either way, Nebulas are very impressive and interesting to look at and typically appear as colorful and bold clouds.

Each appears to be unique and varied due to their own composition and how they were formed.

Can You See Nebula With A Telescope?

It is possible to see Nebulas with a telescope.

Different types of Nebula need to be observed differently, but due to the amount of light they emit and other nearby factors (like the fluorescence from nearby stars), they become visible to us here on Earth.

Depending on where they are and their respective size will ultimately dictate what we can and can’t see.

If a Nebula is diffuse (spread out) it will only be able to be observed with a telescope with certain specifications (long exposures being one of them).

An 8″ Dobsonian Telescope works very well.

I personally use my Celestron NexStar 6SE specifically with this purpose in mind.

I’ve been able to observe many Nebulas which I will shortly outline below.

Generally, if you are looking for Deep Sky Objects (like Nebulas, Star Clusters, and Galaxies), the magnification of your telescope (the amount you can zoom in) should not be your primary concern.

Whilst this sounds like it should be the most important factor, and Magnification should be adequate, you have to consider something else.

What is most important is the Aperture of your telescope, since you need to acquire a lot of light.

The higher the Aperture on your scope, the more light you will effectively be able to collect (and more you will be able to see in the sky).

The Aperture is basically the term used to describe the diameter of a telescope’s central, light-gathering lens or mirror.

The bigger the Aperture, the sharper and brighter your views will be.

The Best Telescopes will therefore provide you with this spec.

Another important factor to consider to see Nebulas is the sky darkness and your local sky conditions.

It is always best to observe in complete darkness. For example, if you use your telescope in a large, light-polluted city, your views of Nebulas will be dramatically impacted and affected.

With extreme light pollution, observing a Nebula may not even be possible regardless of how powerful your telescope is.

Ultimately, it is always best to observe from rural and/or dark areas to give you the best views possible.

What Nebulas Can You See?

It is first important to note, that whilst you can see Nebulas through a telescope, you will only be able to see them in shades of grey.

Unfortunately, observing the dramatic colors and contrasts that you often see in Magazines, Photographs, and on the NASA website cannot be obtained by a standard telescope.

This is primarily because our eyes cannot respond to color at low light levels, so it essentially gets lost.

This is one of the main differences between observing the planets and the moon; because the color and this level of detail are actually possible.

Now, it must be said that there is some Nebula that you can see with a small amount of color.

For this, you will need to use high-spec eyepieces, like these from Amazon and also have the right conditions (dark and clear skies).

Beyond this, there are some filters available on Amazon that you can use to improve and enhance your seeing of Nebulas, and it can bring out some color.

I’ve personally seen greenish outlines on the Orion Nebula with the use of this filter.

What Nebulas Are Best To Observe?

All that being said, the easiest Nebula to see with any telescope, even the smaller ones, is the Orion Nebula. This is a diffuse and one of the brightest nebulas that is situated in the Milky Way.

The Orion Nebula is one of the most observed celestial objects; a lot of our understanding of stars and planetary systems have been identified through it.

With proto-planetary disks, brown dwarfs, extreme collections of gas, and the effects of massive nearby stars make it a fascinating object to observe.

Planetary Nebulae and Supernova Remnants like the Dumbbell Nebula and the Ring Nebula are also relatively easy to observe. An 11″ telescope is advised for the best views.

The Dumbell Nebula is large and bright, shaped just like a Dumbbell compared to the Ring Nebula which looks like a doughnut.

The Lagoon Nebula is another to look out for; a giant oval cloud with a distinguishable core.

Final Words

Observing Nebulas with a telescope is definitely possible and are fascinating objects to observe.

It is important to consider that Nebulas appear in different shades of grey, and without their distinct colors through a telescope.

Nonetheless, there are things you can do (like purchasing eyepieces and filters), and ensuring you are using an adequately powered telescope, to improve your views.

Other guides you may want to read: