NGC 6992, the Eastern Veil Nebula: Alien or evil grin? (or just a nebula?)*

Do a quick search and you’ll find two popular views of the Veil Nebula: the Eastern Nebula, and the Western. They’re very photogenic. The Western Nebula is also sometimes called the Witch’s Broom Nebula, while the Eastern Veil… isn’t really called anything. It’s only ever really referenced by its catalogue which is Caldwell 34. Mr Caldwell was clearly a terribly dull chap.**

I find this odddddd because to my eye it looks exactly like a face. Other people have said it looks like an alien from the film franchise, or an evil grin. What you think?

NGC 6992, the Eastern Veil Nebula. Bit scary. Click for full size (even scarier).
NGC 6992, the Eastern Veil Nebula. Bit scary. Click for full size (even scarier).

I guess most photos show it at a different orientation, which is fair enough, but given that there’s really no ‘up’ or ‘down’ in space, I still think it’s strange that this incredibly evocative object doesn’t have a more vivid nickname.

Anyway, the actual Veil Nebula is quite a large structure in the sky, which is why most people just do the edges. I plan to return to this over the coming months and create a mosaic of the whole thing, which will probably be six panes’ worth.

The post-processing was challenging. That part of the sky is teeming with stars, and it took quite some time before I hit on the idea of using StarTools’s Shrink module. Then, I got feedback from people saying they actually preferred the stars. So, given the choices here – east, west, up, down, stars, no stars – you can see that astrophotography is as much about artistic interpretation as actuality.

Nerdy stuff:

  • 11.5 hours of integration
  • 60 seconds exposures at ISO800
  • Calibration: 25 flats, 25 dark flats, 50 darks, 50 bias
  • Hardware: Sky-Watcher 130PDS scope (F5), Sky-Watcher NEQ6 mount, Canon EOS1000D astro-modded camera with Sky-Watcher 0.9x coma corrector
  • Software: polar alignment with SharpCap Pro, capture with Astrophotography Tool (APT), stacking with Deep Sky Stacker (DSS), post-processing with StarTools and Photoshop CS2
  • View annotated at
  • View superimposed against the WorldWideTelescope

* It’s just a nebula
** Maybe it went something like this: “I say Caldwell old chap, what are you going to call it then?” “Errr… 34?” “Dashed unimaginative, what?”