Pacman Nebula (NGC 281)

NGC 281
NGC 281: Pacman Nebula in Cassiopeia; Takahashi FSQ-106 EDX f=530 mm; Canon EOS 60Da; 6 x 10 min, ISO 800; Gurnigel; © 17. 11. 2012 Jonas Schenker [34]
NGC 281
NGC 281: Pacman Nebula in Cassiopeia; 400 mm Cassegrain f/3 + STL11000M; 4.2h RGB SII H-Alpha OIII; Obwalden; © 2011 Eduard von Bergen [29]
NGC 281
NGC 281: Pacman Nebula in Cassiopeia (north is left); 500 mm Cassegrain 3625 mm f/7.2; SBIG STL11K; 100+40+40+40 min LRGB; Bernese Highlands; © 2011 Radek Chromik [32]


The nebula was discovered on 16 November 1881 by the American astronomer Edward Barnard with a 5 inch refractor and was later added to the «New General Catalogue» by Dreyer as NGC 281. Courtney Seligman suspects that Barnard had observed the same nebula again in 1890, but was in the Coordinates around half an hour in right ascension, which is why the same object was later included in the index catalog again as IC 11. [196, 277] At the specified position of IC 11 there is no nebula and the description «vF, L, triple * on np corner» (very faint, large, triple star on northwest corner) is practically identical to that of NGC 281.

The open star cluster IC 1590 was discovered on 31 October 1899 by the French astronomer Guillaume Bigourdan using the 12.4 inch refractor at the observatory in Paris. [277]

Physical Properties

The open star cluster IC 1590 near the center of the nebula is responsible for most of the high-energy radiation that makes the nebula glow. The brightest of the stars (HD 5005) has 7.7 mag and is a double star. SkySafari 6 Pro [149] specifies a distance of 3.9 arc seconds here.

For the nebula NGC 281 one finds at Simbad [145] a distance of 3.1 kpc (10'100 light years) and for the small star cluster IC 1590 a distance of 2'384 kpc (7776 light years).

Revised+Historic NGC/IC Version 22/9, © 2022 Dr. Wolfgang Steinicke [277]
Name RA Dec Type bMag vMag B-V SB Dim PA z D(z) MD Dreyer Description Identification, Remarks
NGC 281 00 52 53.8 +56 37 30 EN 35 × 30 2.900 F, vL, dif, S triple * on np edge IC 11; LBN 616; in OCL 313
IC 11 00 52 53.8 +56 37 30 dup 35 × 30 2.900 vF, L, triple * on np corner NGC 281; LBN 616; in OCL 313
IC 1590 00 52 48.0 +56 37 54 OCL (OCL+EN) 2.384 Cl, vL, st sc, 281 f in N 281

Finder Chart

The Pacman Nebula is located under the «W» of the Cassiopeia constellation. The constellation is circumpolar, but it is highest at night from July to January. Form an equilateral triangle with the two stars Shedar (α Cassiopeiae) and Achird (η Cassiopeiae).

Finder Chart Pacman Nebula (NGC 281)
Pacman Nebula (NGC 281) in constellation Cassiopeia. Charts created using SkySafari 6 Pro and STScI Digitized Sky Survey. Limiting magnitudes: Constellation chart ~6.5 mag, DSS2 close-ups ~20 mag. [149, 160]

Visual Observation

762 mm aperture: NGC 281, also known as «Pac Man» due to its appearance, is dominated by the black snout, which is already squeezing into the picture far from the side. In the brighter part of the nebula, similar to an aquarium on color photos, the larger granule can be seen on the romboid of 4 faint stars. — 30" f/3.3 Slipstream Dobsonian, Hasliberg Reuti, 3. 3. 2022, Eduard von Bergen

Objects Within a Radius of 15°