How to see the Horsehead Nebula

Locating the Horsehead Nebula is a tricky task, but certainly achievable. Our guide reveals where to look, best techniques, and how to see it.

The Horsehead Nebula is one of the most iconic deep-sky objects there is. Located in Orion, it’s formed by a finger of dark nebulosity projecting in front of bright emission nebula IC 434. The finger resembles the silhouette of a horse’s head, similar to the side-on profile of a classic knight chess piece.

Advertisement

The darker nebulosity that forms the nebula is known as B33, the 33rd entry in the Barnard Catalogue of dark nebulae.

A good challenge is to see if you can observe it through your telescope in the night sky. In this guide we’ll show you how.

More deep-sky observing challenges:

The famous dark nebula known as the Horsehead Nebula, captured by Rafael Compassi from Presidente Lucena, Brazil.
The famous dark nebula known as the Horsehead Nebula, captured by Rafael Compassi from Presidente Lucena, Brazil.

The Horsehead Nebula’s image is found everywhere – in books, online and on wall posters. However, despite deep-sky images showing its background curtain as bright, visually the nebula is extremely dim.

A 12-inch reflector is probably the minimum you need to see it from typical UK skies, but smaller instruments may return a view of the nebula from darker sky locations. The use of a hydrogen-beta (H-beta) filter is also highly recommended.

How to find the Horsehead Nebula

To get started, first look for NGC 2024, the Flame Nebula, located east of Alnitak (Zeta (ζ) Orionis). It’s so close to Alnitak that the star’s glare makes it tricky to see.

If you can see NGC 2024, that’s the first hurdle passed; if you can’t, then it’s unlikely that you’re going to be able to see the Horsehead.

NGC2024 Flame nebula, by Mark Griffith.
Locate the Flame Nebula and you’re on you’re way to finding the Horsehead. Credit: Mark Griffith.

The two key stars needed to locate the Horsehead are mag. +7.5 HIP 26756 and HIP 26820, the latter a tight pair of mag. +6.4 and +7.6 stars separated by 0.7 arcseconds.

The brighter edge of the curtain of nebulosity IC 434, forming the backdrop for B33, runs between HIP 26756 and HIP 26820.

Using our chart below, locate mag. +7.8 HIP 26816 just to the east of HIP 26756. A reflection nebula, NGC 2023, surrounds HIP 26816.

Use our chart to help you locate the Horsehead Nebula in the night sky. Credit: Pete Lawrence
Use our chart to help you locate the Horsehead Nebula in the night sky. Credit: Pete Lawrence

Without the filter, look to see whether you can get a hint of it. If so, you’re all set for the Horsehead attempt. If not, you’re unlikely to succeed with the main challenge.

You’ll need dark skies and your eyes will need to be properly dark-adapted, meaning no light at all for at least 20 minutes. If you place a black cloth over your head that may also help.

Just take your time and look for the faintest hint of nebulosity between HIP 26756 and HIP 26820. This can be very hard, so give your eyes time to get accustomed to the view.

Averted vision with the aid of an H-beta filter is the best way forward here. If you can see it, the Horsehead appears as a tiny dark notch approximately one-quarter the way from HIP 26756 towards HIP 26820.

Make no mistake, this is a very tricky challenge. Light pollution will almost certainly render the Horsehead Nebula invisible. However, if you do manage to see and record it, please let us know.

Get in touch by emailing us at contactus@skyatnightmagazine.com.

Below is a selection of images of the Horsehead Nebula captured by astrophotographers and BBC Sky at Night Magazine readers from around the world.

For advice on how to photograph a nebula, read our guide to deep-sky astrophotography. And don’t forget to send us your images or share them with us via Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

Pictures of the Horsehead Nebula

Horsehead & Flame Nebulae by Brendan Alexander, Donegal, Ireland. Equipment: CG5, Canon 1000D, C8N
Horsehead & Flame Nebulae by Brendan Alexander, Donegal, Ireland. Equipment: CG5, Canon 1000D, C8N
Horse Head Nebula by Mark Casto, Halesworth, Suffolk, UK. Equipment: Skywatcher 200p, EQ5 mount with single RA drive, Canon 350d unmodded.
Horse Head Nebula by Mark Casto, Halesworth, Suffolk, UK. Equipment: Skywatcher 200p, EQ5 mount with single RA drive, Canon 350d unmodded.
Horsehead and Flame Nebula by Andrew Jensen, Suffolk, UK. Equipment: Skywatcher 80mm Equinox Refractor, Atik 314l, NEQ6 Mount
Horsehead and Flame Nebula by Andrew Jensen, Suffolk, UK. Equipment: Skywatcher 80mm Equinox Refractor, Atik 314l, NEQ6 Mount
First attempt of Horsehead Nebula by Mark White, Chesterfield, Derbyshire, UK. Equipment: HEQ5 PRO, 150mm Skywatcher PDS, ST80, PHD, Canon 450D unmodded
First attempt of Horsehead Nebula by Mark White, Chesterfield, Derbyshire, UK. Equipment: HEQ5 PRO, 150mm Skywatcher PDS, ST80, PHD, Canon 450D unmodded
Flame and Horsehead Nebula by Andy Laing, Kettering, Northamptonshire, UK. Equipment: ST80, EQ5 mount,Canon 1000d finderguided.
Flame and Horsehead Nebula by Andy Laing, Kettering, Northamptonshire, UK. Equipment: ST80, EQ5 mount,Canon 1000d finderguided.
Horse Head and Flame Nebula by Martin Reeve, Yeovil, Somerset, UK. Equipment: William Optics ED80 with Ikharus field flattener/focal reducer, moded 350D dslr on a Sky Watcher eq3 mount
Horse Head and Flame Nebula by Martin Reeve, Yeovil, Somerset, UK. Equipment: William Optics ED80 with Ikharus field flattener/focal reducer, moded 350D dslr on a Sky Watcher eq3 mount
Horsehead Nebula by Alan Meehan, Newcastle, NSW, Australia. Equipment: LXD55f4.5 Scmitt Newtonion, EQ6 Mount, Canon 40d Cooled Camera
Horsehead Nebula by Alan Meehan, Newcastle, NSW, Australia. Equipment: LXD55f4.5 Scmitt Newtonion, EQ6 Mount, Canon 40d Cooled Camera
Horsehead Nebula by Lee Housden, Essex, UK. Equipment: Celestron CPC 8
Horsehead Nebula by Lee Housden, Essex, UK. Equipment: Celestron CPC 8″, EQ Wedge, Skywatcher 80 Mm Apocromatic Refractor, Qhy5 Guide, Canon 450D Modded, Clip Filter
Flame and Horsehead by Tom Howard, Crawley, Sussex, UK. Equipment: Meade 5000 127mm APO refractor, mounted on an EQ6, Nikon D7000 DSLR.
Flame and Horsehead by Tom Howard, Crawley, Sussex, UK. Equipment: Meade 5000 127mm APO refractor, mounted on an EQ6, Nikon D7000 DSLR.
Horsehead Nebula and IC2023 by Neil Isaac, Neath, South Wales, UK. Equipment: Orion Optics 200mm f4.5 refrlector, Starlight Xpress SXV-H9 mono CCD with LRDB filters, 90mm guidescope with QHY5 camera, NEQ6 mount
Horsehead Nebula and IC2023 by Neil Isaac, Neath, South Wales, UK. Equipment: Orion Optics 200mm f4.5 refrlector, Starlight Xpress SXV-H9 mono CCD with LRDB filters, 90mm guidescope with QHY5 camera, NEQ6 mount
Horshead Nebula in Narrowband by Nick, Cherhill, Wiltshire, UK. Equipment: TMB 105 F4.9 (Televue FR/FF on TMB F6.2 scope), Atik 4000CCD, Astronomik H-Alpha and H-Beta filters, Meade DSI-c/ST102 autoguider setup, EQ6 mount.
Horsehead Nebula in Narrowband by Nick, Cherhill, Wiltshire, UK. Equipment: TMB 105 F4.9 (Televue FR/FF on TMB F6.2 scope), Atik 4000CCD, Astronomik H-Alpha and H-Beta filters, Meade DSI-c/ST102 autoguider setup, EQ6 mount.
Horsehead Nebula by Mark Griffith, Swindon, Wiltshire, UK. Equipment: Skywatcher equinox 80mm refractor, NEQ6 pro mount, modified canon 1100d EOS camera with Astronomik CLS clip filter.
Horsehead Nebula by Mark Griffith, Swindon, Wiltshire, UK. Equipment: Skywatcher equinox 80mm refractor, NEQ6 pro mount, modified canon 1100d EOS camera with Astronomik CLS clip filter.
The Horse Head Nebula IC434 by Andi Turner, Leek, Staffordshire, UK. Equipment: SXV-H9 Mono CCD Camera, Takahashi FSQ-85 at f3.9, HEQ5 mount.
The Horse Head Nebula IC434 by Andi Turner, Leek, Staffordshire, UK. Equipment: SXV-H9 Mono CCD Camera, Takahashi FSQ-85 at f3.9, HEQ5 mount.
IC434 - Horsehead Nebula by Simon Todd, Ireland. Equipment: Astro-Tech AT8RC, Skywatcher NEQ6Pro GEM Mount, Orion Starshoot Autoguider, Canon 500D Modified and Cooled DSLR
IC434 – Horsehead Nebula by Simon Todd, Ireland. Equipment: Astro-Tech AT8RC, Skywatcher NEQ6Pro GEM Mount, Orion Starshoot Autoguider, Canon 500D Modified and Cooled DSLR
Horsehead with Trail by Robin Rice, Glenamour, Newton Stewart, UK. Equipment: Equinox 80Pro, HEQ5 mount, modified Canon EOS 50D
Horsehead with Trail by Robin Rice, Glenamour, Newton Stewart, UK. Equipment: Equinox 80Pro, HEQ5 mount, modified Canon EOS 50D
Horsehead and Flame by John Dolan, Dublin, Ireland. Equipment: SX-H16, Ha filter, William Optics Z66 Scope, WO flattener, CGEM Mount.
Horsehead and Flame by John Dolan, Dublin, Ireland. Equipment: SX-H16, Ha filter, William Optics Z66 Scope, WO flattener, CGEM Mount.
B33 Horsehead Nebula by Mark Griffith, Swindon, Wiltshire, UK. Equipment: Celestron c11 sct, Skywatcher NEQ6 pro mount,Atik 383L+ camera, motorised filter wheel and Astronomik LRGB filters.
B33 Horsehead Nebula by Mark Griffith, Swindon, Wiltshire, UK. Equipment: Celestron c11 sct, Skywatcher NEQ6 pro mount,Atik 383L+ camera, motorised filter wheel and Astronomik LRGB filters.
Horsehead Nebula by Stephen Gill, Cambridgeshire, UK. Equipment: 4
Horsehead Nebula by Stephen Gill, Cambridgeshire, UK. Equipment: 4″ f/6 refractor, modified Canon 500d, NEQ6 Pro mount, UHC-S filter
Horsehead & Flame Nebula by Chris Grimmer, Norich, UK. Equipment: William Optics GT81 Triplet Refractor, SXVR H694 Mono with Baader Ha Filter, Ioptron CEM60 Standard
Horsehead & Flame Nebula by Chris Grimmer, Norich, UK. Equipment: William Optics GT81 Triplet Refractor, SXVR H694 Mono with Baader Ha Filter, Ioptron CEM60 Standard
Flame and Horsehead Nebulae Widefield by Roger Hutchinson, Mayhill, New Mexico, USA. Equipment: Takahashi FSQ Flourite 106mm aperture, 530mm fl f5.0, SBIG STL-11000M CCD
Flame and Horsehead Nebulae Widefield by Roger Hutchinson, Mayhill, New Mexico, USA. Equipment: Takahashi FSQ Flourite 106mm aperture, 530mm fl f5.0, SBIG STL-11000M CCD
Horsehead Wide Field with 85mm Canon lens by John Short, Whitburn, Tyne and Wear, UK. Equipment: Canon 85mm f1.8, Canon 70D, Skywatcher Adventurer mount
Horsehead Wide Field with 85mm Canon lens by John Short, Whitburn, Tyne and Wear, UK. Equipment: Canon 85mm f1.8, Canon 70D, Skywatcher Adventurer mount
B33 Horsehead Nebula by Mark Griffith, Swindon, Wiltshire, UK. Equipment: Celestron C11 Sct, Skywatcher NEQ6 pro mount,Atik 383L+ camera, motorised filter wheel and Astronomik filters.
B33 Horsehead Nebula by Mark Griffith, Swindon, Wiltshire, UK. Equipment: Celestron C11 Sct, Skywatcher NEQ6 pro mount,Atik 383L+ camera, motorised filter wheel and Astronomik filters.
Flame and Horsehead by Tom Howard, Crawley, Sussex, UK. Equipment: Nikon D7000 DSLR, Meade 5000 127mm refractor, EQ6 mount.
Flame and Horsehead by Tom Howard, Crawley, Sussex, UK. Equipment: Nikon D7000 DSLR, Meade 5000 127mm refractor, EQ6 mount.
IC434 The Horse Head and Flame Nebula by David de Cuevas, Treize Vents, Vendée, France. Equipment: Astro-Tech 66ED - William Optics Flattener/reducer 0.8x, Canon 1100D Astrodon - Astronomik eos clip CLS, Skywatcher EQ6 Pro, Guiding: Orion 80/400 - i-nova PLA-C+, PHD GUIDING.
IC434 The Horse Head and Flame Nebula by David de Cuevas, Treize Vents, Vendée, France. Equipment: Astro-Tech 66ED – William Optics Flattener/reducer 0.8x, Canon 1100D Astrodon – Astronomik eos clip CLS, Skywatcher EQ6 Pro, Guiding: Orion 80/400 – i-nova PLA-C+, PHD GUIDING.
Horsehead Nebula by Lee Housden, Essex, UK. Equipment: Qhy10 OSC, Skywatcher ED 80 Apo, Celestron CPC 800, QHY5.
Horsehead Nebula by Lee Housden, Essex, UK. Equipment: Qhy10 OSC, Skywatcher ED 80 Apo, Celestron CPC 800, QHY5.
Horsehead Nebula by Rob Bates, Worksop, UK. Equipment: Canon 70d modded, Idas v4 filter, HEQ5 Pro, Equinox 80
Horsehead Nebula by Rob Bates, Worksop, UK. Equipment: Canon 70d modded, Idas v4 filter, HEQ5 Pro, Equinox 80
Horse and Flame in Ha by Sheila Whysall, Derbyshire, UK. Equipment: Takahashi FSQ 106, QSI 690 wsg-8
Horse and Flame in Ha by Sheila Whysall, Derbyshire, UK. Equipment: Takahashi FSQ 106, QSI 690 wsg-8
Horsehead and Flame in SHO by Trevor Nicholls, Chelmsford, UK. Equipment: Tak FSQ106 reduced, QSI 6120, Astrodon 5nm Filters, Paramount MX, Lodestar X2 guide camera.
Horsehead and Flame in SHO by Trevor Nicholls, Chelmsford, UK. Equipment: Tak FSQ106 reduced, QSI 6120, Astrodon 5nm Filters, Paramount MX, Lodestar X2 guide camera.
Horsehead and Flame Nebula by Tom Bishton. Equipment: ED120 Black Diamond Refractor, AZEQ6 Mount, ST80 Guidescope, Synguider, Modded Canon 600D camera
Horsehead and Flame Nebula by Tom Bishton. Equipment: ED120 Black Diamond Refractor, AZEQ6 Mount, ST80 Guidescope, Synguider, Modded Canon 600D camera
Horsehead Nebula and Flame Nebula by Jean M Dean, Guernsey, CI. Equipment: Canon 60DA, Astronomik UHC EOS clip filter, Takahashi FS60C refractor, Astrotrac.
Horsehead Nebula and Flame Nebula by Jean M Dean, Guernsey, CI. Equipment: Canon 60DA, Astronomik UHC EOS clip filter, Takahashi FS60C refractor, Astrotrac.
IC434 - Horsehead Nebula and NGC2024 - Flame Nebula by Simon Todd, Haywards Heath, UK. Equipment: Atik 383L+ Mono CCD, Skywatcher EQ8 Pro Mount, Celestron C80ED APO Refractor, Astro-Tech AT2FF Field Flattener, QHY5LII, TS9 Off Axis Guider, guided with PHD2
IC434 – Horsehead Nebula and NGC2024 – Flame Nebula by Simon Todd, Haywards Heath, UK. Equipment: Atik 383L+ Mono CCD, Skywatcher EQ8 Pro Mount, Celestron C80ED APO Refractor, Astro-Tech AT2FF Field Flattener, QHY5LII, TS9 Off Axis Guider, guided with PHD2
Horse Head Nebula by David Attie, UAE. Equipment: C11, Focal reducer x0.63, Moravian G2-4000, internal filter wheel, OAG
Horse Head Nebula by David Attie, UAE. Equipment: C11, Focal reducer x0.63, Moravian G2-4000, internal filter wheel, OAG “Skytrack” made by “Skymeca”, Az-EQ6
Head in the Clouds by Rob Little, Corbridge, Northumberland, UK. Equipment: NEQ6 Mount, Borg 77 EDII F4.6 Astrograph, Starlight express lodestar Autoguider and Baader Ha Narrowband Filter
Head in the Clouds by Rob Little, Corbridge, Northumberland, UK. Equipment: NEQ6 Mount, Borg 77 EDII F4.6 Astrograph, Starlight express lodestar Autoguider and Baader Ha Narrowband Filter
Horsehead and Flame Nebula by Miroslav Horvat, Petrova Gora, Croatia. Equipment: SW ED80/FF x0.85, Qhy8 color, NEQ6 Pro, SW 9x50 finderguider, Qhy5 IIc.
Horsehead and Flame Nebula by Miroslav Horvat, Petrova Gora, Croatia. Equipment: SW ED80/FF x0.85, Qhy8 color, NEQ6 Pro, SW 9×50 finderguider, Qhy5 IIc.
Horsehead and Flame Nebula by Alastair Woodward, Derby, UK. Equipment: Sky-watcher 130PDS, HEQ5 Pro Goto mount, QHY Img2pro mono CCD, cooled to -15 Celsius, 6nm Astronomik Ha filter, QHY 5Lii and 50mm finder for guiding
Horsehead and Flame Nebula by Alastair Woodward, Derby, UK. Equipment: Sky-watcher 130PDS, HEQ5 Pro Goto mount, QHY Img2pro mono CCD, cooled to -15 Celsius, 6nm Astronomik Ha filter, QHY 5Lii and 50mm finder for guiding
Horsehead Nebula by Amit Sharma, Canary Wharf, London. Equipment: TS Optics Apochromatic 60/330 mm TS Photoline 60ED, Starlight XPress sxv h9, Equatorial Celestron AVX, Generic Refractor 50/200 mm Solomark, QHYCCD Qhy 5l ii, Astronomik H-alpha 2.00
Horsehead Nebula by Amit Sharma, Canary Wharf, London. Equipment: TS Optics Apochromatic 60/330 mm TS Photoline 60ED, Starlight XPress sxv h9, Equatorial Celestron AVX, Generic Refractor 50/200 mm Solomark, QHYCCD Qhy 5l ii, Astronomik H-alpha 2.00″ 12nm, Astronomik OIII 2.00″ 12nm.
IC434 Horsehead Nebula by Mark Griffith, Swindon, Wiltshire, UK. Equipment: Teleskop service 12
IC434 Horsehead Nebula by Mark Griffith, Swindon, Wiltshire, UK. Equipment: Teleskop service 12″ Richey-Chretien telescope, Skywatcher EQ8 mount,Atik 383L+ camera, Astronomik HaRGB filters.
IC 434 (Horsehead) and NGC 2024 (Flame) and surroundings by Jeffrey O. Johnson, Las Cruces, New Mexico, USA. Equipment: Takahashi FS-60C @ f/6.2, Takahashi EM200 Temma II Mount, QSI 540wsg.
IC 434 (Horsehead) and NGC 2024 (Flame) and surroundings by Jeffrey O. Johnson, Las Cruces, New Mexico, USA. Equipment: Takahashi FS-60C @ f/6.2, Takahashi EM200 Temma II Mount, QSI 540wsg.
The Horsehead Nebula by Rafael Compassi, Presidente Lucena, Brazil. Equipment: 80mm F/5 Triplet APO, QHY9m, 36mm Baader filters.
The Horsehead Nebula by Rafael Compassi, Presidente Lucena, Brazil. Equipment: 80mm F/5 Triplet APO, QHY9m, 36mm Baader filters.
The Horsehead Nebula by Rafael Compassi, Presidente Lucena, Brazil. Equipment: 80mm F/5 Triplet APO, QHY9m, 36mm Baader filters.
The Horsehead Nebula by Rafael Compassi, Presidente Lucena, Brazil. Equipment: 80mm F/5 Triplet APO, QHY9m, 36mm Baader filters.
IC 434 Horse head Nebula & NGC 2024 Flame Nebula by Martin Pyott, St Andrews, UK. Equipment: Altair Astro 66mm ED, 0.8X FF/FR, IOptron Smart EQ mount (unguided), Baader Modified and cooled Canon 600D
IC 434 Horse head Nebula & NGC 2024 Flame Nebula by Martin Pyott, St Andrews, UK. Equipment: Altair Astro 66mm ED, 0.8X FF/FR, IOptron Smart EQ mount (unguided), Baader Modified and cooled Canon 600D
Horsehead Nebula HaRGB by Simon Hudson, London, UK. Equipment: Explore Scientific ED80, Celestron CGX Mount, QHY9m, ZWOasi224mc, phd2, 365astronomy 60mm deluxe guide scope, Baader filters.
Horsehead Nebula HaRGB by Simon Hudson, London, UK. Equipment: Explore Scientific ED80, Celestron CGX Mount, QHY9m, ZWOasi224mc, phd2, 365astronomy 60mm deluxe guide scope, Baader filters.
Horse Head Nebula by Quek Zong Ye, Singapore. Equipment: Takahashi Epsilon 180ED, QHY16200 coold CCD, Skywatcher AZ-EQ6.
Horse Head Nebula by Quek Zong Ye, Singapore. Equipment: Takahashi Epsilon 180ED, QHY16200 coold CCD, Skywatcher AZ-EQ6.
Barnard 33 and Friends by Andrew Knight, Bedfordshire, UK. Equipment: Skywatcher 250PDS, Skywatcher AZ-EQ6GT mount, Unmodded Nikon D5200 DSLR.
Barnard 33 and Friends by Andrew Knight, Bedfordshire, UK. Equipment: Skywatcher 250PDS, Skywatcher AZ-EQ6GT mount, Unmodded Nikon D5200 DSLR.
Horsehead and Flame Nebula by Ryan Proctor, Wakefield, UK. Equipment: Backyard Nikon, PHD2, DSS.
Horsehead and Flame Nebula by Ryan Proctor, Wakefield, UK. Equipment: Backyard Nikon, PHD2, DSS.
Horsehead Nebula by John Tonks, Pembrokeshire, UK. Equipment: 180mm Maksutov, ZWO 1600mm camera.
Horsehead Nebula by John Tonks, Pembrokeshire, UK. Equipment: 180mm Maksutov, ZWO 1600mm camera.
IC434 Horsehead Nebula by Simon Todd, Haywards Heath, UK. Equipment: Sky-Watcher Quattro 8
IC434 Horsehead Nebula by Simon Todd, Haywards Heath, UK. Equipment: Sky-Watcher Quattro 8″ F4 Imaging Newtonian, Qhyccd 183M 20mpx ColdMOS, Sky-Watcher EQ8 Pro, Qhyccd QHY5L-II Mono, Sky-Watcher 50×90 Finder Scope, Starlight Xpress Ltd 7x36mm EFW, Baader Planetarium 36mm RGB, Sky-Watcher Aplanatic Coma Corrector
NGC2024 by Andy Jensen, Battisford, Suffolk, UK. Equipment: NEQ6, Skywatcher 120mm ED Refractor, Canon 600d Modded
NGC2024 by Andy Jensen, Battisford, Suffolk, UK. Equipment: NEQ6, Skywatcher 120mm ED Refractor, Canon 600d Modded
NGC2024 Flame Nebula by Mark Griffith, Swindon, Wiltshire, UK. Equipment: Celestron C11 SCT, Skywatcher NEQ6 Pro mount, Canon Eos 1100d self-modified, Astronomik CLS CCD clip filter.
NGC2024 Flame Nebula by Mark Griffith, Swindon, Wiltshire, UK. Equipment: Celestron C11 SCT, Skywatcher NEQ6 Pro mount, Canon Eos 1100d self-modified, Astronomik CLS CCD clip filter.
Advertisement

Pete Lawrence is an experienced astronomer and a co-host of The Sky at Night. This guide originally appeared in the January 2021 issue of BBC Sky at Night Magazine.