Astrophotography Targets for February

NGC 2264 Christmas Tree ClusterdnMon 6H 41.0m +9°54'4.440' × 40'Beginner
NGC 2174 Monkey Head NebuladnOri 6H 9.7m +20°30'-40' × 40'Intermediate
NGC 2244 Rosette NebuladnMon 6H 34.4m +4°52'4.880' × 60'Intermediate
NGC 2261 Hubble's Variable NebuladnMon 6H 39.2m +8°44'~102' × 2'Intermediate
NGC 2359 Thor's HelmetdnCMa 7H 18.6m -13°12'-10' × 10'Intermediate
NGC 2392 Eskimo NebulapnGem 7H 29.2m +20°55'1047" × 43"Intermediate
NGC 2403sgCam 7H 36.9m +65°36'8.429' × 13'Intermediate
NGC 2467 (Sharpless 2-331)dnPup 7H 52.6m -26°23'716' × 16'Intermediate
IC 2177 Seagull NebuladnMon 7H 5.1m -10°42'-~2° × 2°Advanced
NGC 2346pnMon 7H 9.4m -0°48'11.654" × 54"Advanced
NGC 2371 & NGC 2372pnGem 7H 25.6m +29°29'1350" × 90"Advanced
NGC 2440pnPup 7H 41.9m -18°13'1130" × 30"Advanced
George Moromisato
1 February 2009

Astronomers love catalogs the way physicists love graph paper and biologists love gooey biological stuff. When I bought my first CCD camera, I didn't need a catalog: My target choices were either the Orion Nebula or the Whirlpool Galaxy. Everything else looked like a brownish blob of varying texture and fuzziness.

Now that cameras (and my skills) have improved, I have more choices. Every month I pore through my catalogs in search of interesting objects that might make good pictures. Last month I wrote down my favorite objects for January. This month I list my favorite objects between 6 and 8 hours of Right Ascension, that is, those objects that happen to be pretty high in the sky at night in February.


January has the Orion Nebula and March has M81. Both are large and bright objects that can be captured with almost any equipment and almost any skill level. What does February have for beginners? Not much, unfortunately. All of February's nebulae are either large but faint or bright but tiny.

The Rosette Nebula is probably the most famous nebula for February. It is a large and beautiful nebula in Monoceros that gave birth to a brilliant cluster of stars. Unfortunately, its large size (it has four times the area of the Full Moon) makes it difficult to capture unless you have a small refractor or create a mosaic. Nevertheless, a good picture of the Rosette nebula can be breathtaking.

An easier target for beginners is probably NGC 2264, also known as the Christmas Tree Cluster. It is a large nebula (also in Monoceros) that spans two-thirds of a degree (larger than the Full Moon). I list it as an object for beginners only because it has a bright and recognizable portion known as the Cone Nebula that is easy to capture with most scopes. To get the whole nebula, however, you need a short focal length refractor and a lot of integration time.

NGC 2174 (the Monkey Head) is about the same size as the Christmas Tree Cluster. By far the largest nebula in February is IC 2177, also known as the Seagull Nebula. Capturing the whole of the Seagull is either hard (stitch a large mosaic) or expensive (buy a large format camera). Nevertheless, the "head" of the nebula makes an interesting target.

NGC 2359, also known as Thor's Helmet is a more manageable size, as is NGC 2467.

Finally, NGC 2261 (Hubble's Variable Nebula) deserves a mention. Although it is small, it is interesting because its appearance varies, sometimes in a matter of weeks. Unraveling the mystery of NGC 2261 was so important that it was the first object to be photographed with the great 200-inch Hale telescope in 1948, then the largest telescope in the world. Take pictures of this nebula a year apart and see if it has changed.


One of the most famous planetary nebulae in the sky is NGC 2392, which is called the Eskimo Nebula because of its resemblance to a face in a fur-lined parka. The Eskimo Nebula is tiny and requires precise tracking and good resolution. Fortunately, it is relatively bright. If necessary, decrease the length of your sub-exposures to minimize tracking errors.

The other planetary nebulae in February are much harder to capture, but if you have a large telescope, you should be able to get some good details, particularly out of NGC 2346.

And a Galaxy

Last but not least is NGC 2403, a large spiral galaxy in Camelopardalis. Its large, ragged arms remind me of M33. Its large size makes it faint, but don't let that stop you; a good shot of it can be quite beautiful.

NGC 2403 is one of the brightest objects that Charles Messier missed when he created his catalog. It remained unknown until William Herschel added it to his own catalog in 1788. And now you can add it to yours.