22 Objects to Image this Season
We’ve collected some of our favourite winter astrophotography targets to keep you busy this season, with some beginner targets right through to some more challenging objects. They’re arranged by constellation and where better to get started than with the most recognisable constellation in the Winter sky, Orion.
M42 – The Orion Nebula
M42 is an incredibly bright object which can make it a good target for beginners and suitable for a huge range of setups. The real challenge is balancing the incredibly bright core with the surrounding nebulosity and dust. The most common approach to this is to take a variety of short and long exposures that can be carefully combined in post-processing.
Because of its brightness, M42 makes a great target for one-shot colour cameras as well as RGB filters, while narrowband imaging can bring out the finer details in the surrounding nebulosity. Use a short focal length refractor if possible.
NGC 1973/5/7 – The Running Man
Often imaged in the same frame as M42 is The Running Man Nebula. At Mag 7 this is a less bright, but incredibly beautiful reflection nebula. LRGB is the way to go, and exposures are best kept short due to the number of bright stars in the field. Combining some Ha data with the red channel may help to highlight the ‘running man’ structure.
IC 434 and NGC 2024 – The Horsehead Nebula and The Flame Nebula
Mag: 4.5 and 7.2
IC 434 is another iconic nebula in Orion, with its easily recognisable ‘horsehead’ structure.
As M42 has its bright core, The Horsehead and Flame have Alnitak. This mag 1.8 binary star poses the main challenge when imaging the ‘Horse and Flame’. ‘RGB only’ can be a good approach, and as with M42, you can try combining short and long exposures to handle the star. The region also works well in narrowband, though the reflection nebulae will be far less prominent. Adding Ha data to RGB images will add detail and structure to the nebulosity.
Often overlooked in favour of its more famous neighbours, M78 is a striking reflection nebula just 2.5 degrees northeast of Alnitak. It’s a faint and slow target so best imaged using a fast scope from a dark sky site while the moon isn’t around and the weather is on your side – in other words, it’s not an easy one to master. As with most reflection nebula, it’s best to use LRGB.
M45 – Pleiades/The Seven Sisters
The challenge when imaging the Pleiades is balancing the bright stars with the faint surrounding nebulosity. Using only RGB filters or an OSC camera is the best for doing this, and subs should be kept short (under two minutes). A large target, it’s best captured using a short focal length telescope or a camera lens. Some form of haloing around the brighter stars is inevitable but can be kept under control with careful processing.
M1 – The Crab Nebula
As the first object in Messier’s catalogue, who can resist imaging supernova remnant the Crab Nebula. At only 6×4 arcminutes, M1 benefits from longer focal length telescopes, ideally from around 1500mm upwards. It can be successfully imaged using LRGB or a colour camera, but the complex filaments are most prominent when imaging in narrowband. Hydrogen Alpha does the most to capture these structures, but the Crab can also benefit from data using OIII and Hydrogen Beta filters.
IC 405 – The Flaming Star Nebula
Both an emission and reflection nebula, the Flaming Star is best imaged at short focal lengths using LRGB filters. Adding Ha data can bring out greater detail and structure, but the nebula doesn’t image well through other narrowband filters, so you can give the OIII and SII a miss.
IC 410 – The Tadpole Nebula
Located nearby is IC 410, an emission nebula that houses the famous 10 light-year long Tadpoles. Whilst bright enough to be captured using an OSC camera or RGB techniques, this nebula responds well to narrowband, with complex and detailed structures and emissions.
Using a two-panel mosaic, it’s possible to capture both IC 405 and IC 410 in the same frame.
The brightest of the open clusters in Auriga, M37 benefits from a wide field of view and is best imaged using short exposures in order to manage the incredible range of colours in the star field.
IC 443 – The Jellyfish Nebula
One of the brightest supernova remnants in the northern sky, the Jellyfish Nebula can be captured with RGB filters and OSC cameras, but responds very well to narrowband imaging.
Abell 21 – The Medusa Nebula
Abell 21 is an incredibly dim planetary nebula, making it one of the more challenging targets on the list and best imaged using narrowband filters. Combining Ha with RGB can also produce well-structured results.
We don’t have any images of the Medusa Nebula in our gallery – get in touch to be the first!
NGC 2392 – The Eskimo Nebula
NGC 2392 is another planetary nebula in Gemini that can be tricky to capture successfully. It’s very small and bright, making it best imaged at longer focal lengths using short subframes to capture the internal structure. The Eskimo works well using LRGB, OSC or narrowband filters, namely NII, Ha and OIII.
NGC 2237-9, 2244 – The Rosette Nebula
The Rosette is comprised of four different NGCs, as well as open cluster NGC 2244 at its heart. It’s a large nebula so benefits from a large field of view, and its brightness makes it suitable for OSC cameras and RGB imaging. However, using an additional luminance layer or adding Ha and OIII data to an image can bring out additional details in the nebulosity and capture the intricacy of the nebula’s bok globules.
This region contains not only reflection nebula NGC 2170 itself, but also a red emission nebula, dark nebulae and additional reflection nebula NGC 2182. Use as much LRGB data as possible from a dark sky site.
NGC 2264 – The Christmas Tree Cluster and Cone Nebula
Not only the most seasonal target on the list, but also a fantastic patch of sky combining a star-forming region, emission nebula, reflection nebula and second star cluster. Combine Ha data with LRGB for best results.
NGC 2359 – Thor’s Helmet
The distinctive shape of this nebula is reminiscent of Norse God Thor’s winged helmet. It can be a challenging target due to its relatively low declination making atmospheric conditions important. It’s also dim and easily masked by light pollution. Traditional LRGB techniques work well. Adding Ha data can bring detail to the faint outer structures, but be careful during processing to ensure the Ha doesn’t overpower other channels. Capture your blue data while the object is nearest the meridian.
A similar size and brightness to M81, NGC 2403 is best imaged with mid to long focal lengths. Its brightness makes it a good target for OSC cameras or standard LRGB methods. If using a monochrome camera, try adding some Ha to really bring out the jewels in the spiral arms.
Despite its relatively bright magnitude, this spiral galaxy has a low surface brightness and benefits from as much luminance data as possible.
IC 1805 – The Heart Nebula
Although it’s perfectly possible to image the Heart Nebula in RGB, it really benefits from narrowband imaging to bring out the detail and structures within the nebulosity. Deep inside the Heart Nebula is open cluster Melotte 15 with a distinctive pillar of dust. This can be captured using a much tighter field of view than for the whole nebula.
IC 1848 – The Soul Nebula
Partner to the Heart Nebula is the nearby Soul Nebula, similarly benefitting from narrowband imaging to capture details in the nebulosity.
Using a wide field of view or a mosaic will you allow to capture both nebulae in the same image.
IC 2118 – The Witch Head Nebula
The Witch Head is a large object so requires a large field of view. This may be more readily achieved with a camera lens than a telescope. It’s also a dim object and sits low in the sky, meaning any light pollution will make it incredibly difficult to image. Use LRGB for best results and gentle processing to bring out the faint nebulosity.
NGC 772 – The Nautilus Galaxy
Despite sitting high in the sky, this peculiar galaxy isn’t one you see imaged too often. Its relatively small size means you can use a longer focal length, and, as with most galaxies, the more luminance data the better. Careful processing is needed to balance the colour and detail in the galaxy with the faint fuzzies in the surrounding region.
New Moon – 6th January
making the weeks starting the 1st and 8th the best for imaging in January.
New Moon – 4th February
making the weeks starting the 29th Jan and the 5th Feb the best for imaging in February.
Have we missed your favourite winter target off the list? Have some tips for imaging these? Let us know in the comments.