Happy holidays and welcome to December! Astrophotography is the gift that keeps on giving, and we're here again to provide you with a list of December astrophotography targets in our special monthly series. Cozy up and get inspired with our suggestions for deep-sky photography. Read on to find out more and don't forget to visit next month's targets in the New Year.
Below you will find 5 deep-sky objects that are at their highest elevation in December. If you don't find your favorites, don't worry - they may be featured in another monthly target post. We do our best to have unique targets and no repeats.
The following three objects are easy to photograph, and we'll also list two toward the end that are a little more challenging. Check them all out below!
Watch our video guide on YouTube for more information and a bit of fun!
5 December astrophotography targets:
LDN 1622 - The Boogeyman Nebula
IC 2118 - The Witch Head Nebula
Messier 1 - The Crab Nebula
The first deep sky object on this list is the very first entry in Messier's catalog: The Crab Nebula!
Messier 1 is a supernova remnant in the constellation Taurus. It is located near the famous Pleiades star cluster (Messier 45).
The Crab Nebula is a small object, but it is very bright and a relatively easy target for beginner astrophotographers. It may appear a little too small if you own a wide-field refractor telescope but is perfect for people using an instrument with a focal length of 600mm or more. We captured this object with our very first telescope, the Orion 8" Astrograph reflector which has a focal length of 800mm. Click on the image for more information.
NGC 2264 - The Christmas Tree Cluster and Cone Nebula
NGC 2264 is the designation given to two popular objects: The Christmas Tree cluster and the Cone Nebula. The Christmas Tree Cluster is a loose open cluster of stars that seems to take the shape of a Christmas Tree. The Cone Nebula is located toward the top of the "tree" and is reminiscent of a tree topper. 🎄
NGC 2264 is located in the constellation Monoceros, which follows the Orion constellation in the winter. It is also very close to another famous winter object: The Rosette Nebula.
If you are up for the challenge, try to photograph the Christmas Tree Cluster and Cone Nebula just in time for Christmas! What a fun coincidence! You may have to stay up late to get enough exposure time on it, but who wouldn't be excited to share a festive image online with friends and family on Christmas Day?!
Barnard's Loop is going to be your new favorite wide-field target this winter!
Located in Orion, Barnard's Loop is a huge emission nebula complex that contains many of the most popular winter sky objects, such as the Orion Nebula, the Horsehead Nebula, the Witch Head Nebula, and more!
You cannot image Barnards Loop with a telescope and will need a DSLR camera with a lens of about 50mm. You can see the one we used, along with lots of other information, by clicking on the image below.
Barnard's Loop has a lot of Hydrogen Alpha gas, so the use of an Ha filter is recommended if you are imaging with an unmodified DSLR camera.
LDN 1622 is a dark nebula located in the constellation Orion. Although the nebula itself is made up of dark dust, it lies in front of an incredible amount of Hydrogen Alpha gas, making it an impressive target to photograph.
LDN 1622 is often called the Boogeyman Nebula. Just like the Christmas Tree cluster and Cone Nebula, LDN 1622 is a great target to image during the festivities... well, maybe try to capture it for Halloween instead of Christmas.
Just like any other dark nebula, the Boogeyman Nebula is not an easy target and requires long hours of exposure to really look impressive.
LDN 1622 by Anne's Astronomy News
IC 2118 - The Witch Head Nebula
Another dark nebula for December is IC 2118, or the Witch Head Nebula! This is probably the least difficult of all dark nebulae to photograph, as it reflects more light than most others.
The Witch Head Nebula is very large, and so is best captured using a small wide-field telescope. It is located in the constellation Eridanus, just on the edge of Orion. You might be able to fit Rigel, the 7th brightest star in the sky, in the same frame. In our image below, Rigel was right on the edge so you can see its intense light coming into the image.
Try spending as much time as possible on this object, especially a dark site if possible. It is difficult to bring out the dark gases during processing and more data always helps!
December astrophotography targets are plentiful, but come out looking their best when photographed from a dark site. If you can manage to get to a dark site this festive month, you'll be able to capture all the dark nebulae present in this list.
We hope this list gave you ideas for what to photograph tonight. Even if you only get one (it's the holiday season after all) you can bookmark this page and continue the list next year! We'd love to see your results in the comments section!
See our picks for our 15 winter astrophotography targets list if you want to see more great objects for this merry month.