Winter is my favorite time to observe and image the nighttime sky. Yes it’s bitterly cold for many of us, but the nights start early and last long throughout these months. Here is my list of the best Deep Sky Objects for you to hunt down and observe or image during this time of year. For more about what’s going on in the night sky please subscribe to my YouTube Channel where I cover major events in astronomy throughout the year in my monthly series “The Night Sky”.
While the best views of these objects beyond our Solar System will be with a telescope, most can also be spotted with a pair of binoculars and a few with even just the naked eye. Remember, darker skies, no Moonlight and larger telescopes will bring about better results for observing these distant objects. Begin the night by setting up your equipment right after sunset and give the sky a good hour to darken before you start your observing or imaging. This will allow your equipment to acclimate to the outdoor temperature while the sky gets nice and dark for your night out under the stars. The app I used to create these star charts is “SkySafari”. For more information on it, please visit skysafariastronomy.com
The Orion Nebula
Let’s begin our journey by facing towards the South East and looking up until you see the Constellation Orion. Start out with your finder scope and a low magnification eyepiece whenever you are looking for objects in the night sky. Star hop from bright star to bright star until you get to the Deep Sky Object you are looking for. Once you find it, then use a medium powered eyepiece to study the faint and fine details of the object. After finding the three stars that make up Orion’s belt, move down until you come across what looks like a patch of gray clouds floating in the sky. You have just found the gorgeous Orion Nebula and it’s stellar nursery of stars being born. Even with moderate light pollution, my 8 inch Dobsonian telescope can pick up a grayish teal color coming from this deep sky object.
Every year, I image the Orion Nebula in January or February. Here is one of my favorite shots taken with my Canon SL2, 135mm Samyang Lens and SkyGuider Pro Tracking Mount showing off arguably the best Deep Sky Object the night sky has to offer.
The Horsehead Nebula
The Constellation Orion is home to our next two targets as well. Move back up to Orion’s belt and you will come across the famous horsehead nebula which is a difficult target to see visually but one I love to image every year. To see it visually you will need very dark skies, a large telescope and probably the help of an H-Beta filter to enhance the contrast.
Even though I’ve never seen it with the naked eye, this long exposure image I took of the Horsehead nebula shows the incredible beauty of this dark nebula with the flame nebula parked right near it as an added bonus.
Over from Orion’s Belt you will find one of the brightest reflection nebulas in the night sky, M78. I’ve only captured a few images of this target but it goes well with the impressive family of objects located within the Constellation Orion .
NGC 2244 & NGC 2264
The Christmas Tree Cluster
Let’s move out of the Constellation Orion and over to the Constellation Monoceros where you will find the open clusters NGC 2244 inside the Rosette Nebula and NGC 2264, the Christmas Tree Cluster, inside of the Cone Nebula. While these nebulas will be difficult to see through your telescope the two clusters within them are an enjoyable part of space to explore with a pair of binoculars or a telescope.
With faint hints of the Rosette Nebula showing up, this image shows off these two clusters but I didn’t quite have enough exposure time to pick up the famous red from this nebula.
Just above Hyades, you will find the Pleiades. The seven sisters are another great naked eye and binocular target that will reveal more and more stars as you move your way Let’s move back to the Constellation Orion and then move up until we come to the Constellation Taurus. It’s here where you will find the open star cluster Hyades. Wider fields of view and low powered eyepiece will provide the best observing experience of this large object in the night sky.
I was just able to fit the Hyades into the field of view of my 135mm lens while taking this image of it. Even without imaging equipment, the beauty and complexity of this region of space is enjoyable to see with just the naked eye and a pair of binoculars.
Just above Hyades, you will find the Pleiades. The seven sisters are another great naked eye and binocular target that will reveal more and more stars as you move your way up to views through a telescope at low and medium magnifications.
In long exposure photography the blue nebula appears with the seven sisters. I hope to one day image the Pleiades from a dark sky location to reveal even more of the faint nebula making up this object..
The Starfish Cluster & Pinwheel Cluster
Let’s make our way over to the Constellation Auriga. Here you will find amongst several objects the Starfish and Pinwheel clusters.
This region of space is a great view through binoculars and low magnification eyepieces in your telescope and it’s star density showed up well in astrophotography.
The Crab Nebula and a Bonus Object
In between Aurgia and Orion right at the edge of Taurus is the Crab Nebula. This object can be a difficult one to see under light polluted skies but it is worth your time to try and hunt down due to it being one of the most famous supernova remnants in the night sky. As a bonus object for the winter sky, since we’re already in this part of the sky you won’t want to miss one of the best open clusters in the Gemini Constellation, M35. This naked eye object can be enjoyed with no equipment whatsoever under a clear dark and steady sky.
Overview of the Best Winter Deep Sky Objects
Those are my top picks for the best deep sky objects to view or image in the winter sky. Let me know what you’ve been out to observe or imagine and if there is anything you’d add to this list in the comment section below! Thank you all so much for your support and clear skies from Late Night Astronomy.
Late Night Astronomy