Smells like love is in the air, so it must be February! With winter slowly coming to an end (even though it doesn't feel like it), it's time to dust off your astrophotography rig! Chances are, you never stopped using it, and for good reason - there's much to photograph in the night sky this season! We're keeping our special monthly series of targets going with five more astrophotography objects to capture this month!
Below you will find 5 deep-sky objects that are at their highest elevation in February. We've compiled a list of suggestions for you to choose from, or complete, for February astrophotography targets. We have taken great attention to making unique recommendations each month in winter and avoid duplicates.
The great part of our series is that we always have three easy objects for you to try out and two challenging targets for more advanced astrophotographers. No matter your skill level, there's something for you!
Watch our video guide on YouTube if you prefer.
Looking for more winter targets? Read our 15 winter astrophotography targets!
5 February astrophotography targets:
M44 - The Beehive Cluster
Abell 21 - The Medusa Nebula
Messier 81 & Messier 82
Messier 81 (Bode's Galaxy) is a beautiful and large spiral galaxy in Ursa Major. It has a bright yellow core and long blue arms. Several bright stars can be seen around it as well.
Also in Ursa Major and located extremely close to M81, Messier 82 (or the Cigar Galaxy) is a Starburst galaxy viewed edge-on. It is the closest object of its kind to Earth.
The two objects are so close to each other that they are almost always captured together. Both will fit in the same field of view in any small to medium size telescope. They are easy to image with beginner equipment and look great when captured with unmodified DSLR cameras, as seen below.
Messier 44 is a large open cluster in the constellation Cancer. It is also called the Beehive Cluster. Galileo Galilei, back in 1609, was able to take a good look at M44 and resolve a total of 40 stars through his telescope. This was one of Galileo's first astronomical observations!
The Beehive Cluster is an easy object for beginner astrophotographers. It is very large and might not fit in large telescopes, so a small instrument is preferred. A DSLR camera will work very well with this target and you should be able to get a nice result without having to spend many hours of exposure on it.
NGC 1999 by Bob Franke
Messier 106 is a spiral galaxy in Canes Venatici. It has a nice angle that's not often seen in other popular galaxies that large. There are also several much smaller galaxies all around.
M106 is a great RGB object, but it also contains a lot of Hydrogen Alpha gas. If possible, try to use an HA filter as well when capturing this object if you want to reveal the red parts both around the core and in the arms. You can see a comparison with/without the HA filter on our full post by clicking the image below!
Messier 97 & Messier 108
Back in the constellation Ursa Major with Messier 97 (The Owl Nebula) and Messier 108 (The Surfboard Galaxy). These are two small but interesting deep sky objects that can be imaged with preferably large telescopes. Imaging both at the same time is possible, but tight as seen in the image below (taken with our Orion 8" Astrograph and a cropped sensor camera). This night was the first time we discovered how important back-focus was... and we had issues as you can see by the shape of the stars on the edges.
You can watch Episode 12 of Galactic Hunter to see how we captured these in the desert!
Abel 21, also known as the Medusa Nebula, is a small and faint planetary nebula located in Gemini. This is not an easy target and is best captured with a large telescope and narrowband filters. Long exposure times are required to reveal the faint detail in and around the nebula. Very faint gas (not visible below) is actually expanding from the outer shell and really difficult to get in processing without bringing up a lot of noise.
Abell 21 reminds us of another nebula that has almost the same shape, size, and type: The Shrimp Nebula (Sh2-188)!
Abell 21 by Astrosurf
This is the last month we recommend winter targets and shifting slowly toward the spring targets. If you found a target for tonight, we're so glad to have helped with some ideas. As always, if you happened to photograph any of our suggestions, be sure to come back and share your photo in the comments! We love to see it.
If you haven't seen our other posts or want more ideas, check out our choices for the top 15 winter Astrophotography targets. Hurry, the season's coming to an end quickly!
GALACTIC HUNTER BOOKS
Description: Discover 60 Deep Sky Objects that will considerably improve your Imaging and Processing skills! Whether you are a beginner, intermediate, or advanced astrophotographer, this detailed book of the best deep sky objects will serve as a personal guide for years to come! Discover which star clusters, nebulae, and galaxies are the easiest and most impressive to photograph for each season. Learn how to find each object in the night sky, and read our recommendations on imaging them in a quick and comprehensive way. Each target in this guide contains our advice on imaging, photos of expected results, and a useful information table. We've also included a few cool facts about each target, a map to find it in the night sky, and more!
Description: The Astrophotographer’s Journal is a portable notebook created for the purpose of recording observations, cataloging photographs, and writing down the wonderful memories created by this hobby. This book contains more than 200 pages to memorialize your stargazing and imaging sessions, as well as a useful chart on the last pages to index exciting or important notes. Read back on the logs to see how much progress you have made through the months, the problems you overcame, and the notes taken to improve in the future. Just as the pioneers of astronomy did in their time, look up and take notes of your observations as you are the author of this star-filled journey.
Description: The Constellations Handbook is a logical guide to learning the 88 constellations. Learning the constellations is difficult. Remembering them is even harder. Have you ever wanted to look up to the night sky, name any pattern of stars and be able to tell their stories? This book groups the constellations in a logical order so that the reader can easily learn them by their origin, and see how their stories interact with one another as a group. The last pages of this book include an index of all 88 constellations, each with a slot where you can write your own personal tips and tricks in order to memorize them with ease. The Constellations Handbook is not just another guide listing all the constellations from A to Z and their location, it is the perfect companion for stargazing and a learning journey through the ages.