The Night Sky 2023: January

So back by popular demand is my The Night Sky Series. The Night Sky being a curated list of deep sky objects, planets, noteworthy events etc throughout the night skies of January in the northern hemisphere.

I split all the Deep Sky Objects up by focal length based off of a Full Frame image format such as the Canon 5D. But I will give equivalent focal lengths also in the likely case you’re using a different camera.

You can use the links here to quick jump to a section:

With that, let’s begin with Deep Sky Objects

Deep Sky Objects

Use the quick links to jump to a specific focal length if you wish, or just browse the whole lot for more inspiration!

200-300mm

Equivalent To:
183/533 Sensor: 74mm-111mm
294/1600 Sensor: 100mm-150mm
Canon APS-C: 125mm-187mm
Nikon/071/2600: 133mm-200mm
Full Frame/5D/6200: 200mm-300mm

At 200-300mm for The Night Sky January I suggest pointing your equipment over to the constellation of Auriga. Within Auriga we have several rather large emission nebulae. At these focal lengths however it is possible to get effectively all of them in one frame! I do think, in my opinion, that this framing responds better to 300mm. For your troubles you can image (in one frame!):

  • IC405 – The Flaming Star Nebula
  • IC410 – The Tadpoles Nebula
  • NGC1931 – Fly Nebula
  • IC417 – Spider Nebula
  • M36 – Pinwheel Cluster
  • NGC1907 – An Open Star Cluster
  • M38 – Starfish Cluster

That’s a lot for any single framing. So that is my recommendation. The emission nebulae will respond really well to narrowband filters, but with the star clusters in there I think the best would be a mixture of HaRGB.

Key Info:

RA: 5hr 23m 05s
Dec: +34°06’54”
Con: Auriga
Type: Emission Nebulae & Star Clusters

IC405 The Flaming Star Nebula
IC405 – The Flaming Star Nebula in HaRGB

400mm

Equivalent to:
183/533 Sensor: 148mm
294/1600 Sensor: 200mm
Canon APS-C: 250mm
Nikon/071/2600: 266mm
Full Frame/5D/6200: 400mm

Given the time of year, the only target I can suggest at 400mm for The Night Sky January will be the big one itself. M31. Better known as the Andromeda Galaxy in the constellation of Andromda.

You will most likely already know about this target, however M31 is one that really responds well to more integration time. Especially if you’re imaging under light pollution like the most of us will be.

The framing at 400mm also includes Andromeda’s small companion galaxy M110 also.

Key Info:

RA: 0hr 42m 44s
Dec: +41°16’20”
Con: Andromeda
Type: Galaxy

M31 Andromeda Galaxy
M31 screenshot from Stellarium as I don’t like my current images!

500-600mm

Equivalent to:
183/533 Sensor: 185mm-222mm
294/1600 Sensor: 250mm-300mm
Canon APS-C: 312mm-375mm
Nikon/071/2600: 333mm-400mm
Full Frame/5D/6200: 500mm-600mm

At 500-600mm focal length in The Night Sky January I’ve opted to suggest M45. The Pleiades cluster. The Seven Sisters, Subaru, whatever you choose to call it, there’s no denying that M45 is a visually striking and beautiful target. A wonderous reflection nebula with no shortage of excited reflective blue gases and with the added benefit of being surrounded by lots of dust. Under dark skies with a wider field of view you, you might be amazed by just how dusty M45’s region of sky is!

Again whilst this is a rather well known object, I’ve always found The Pleiades to be an interesting one. Not only due to its visual impact, but also because it’s a very beginner friendly target to find and shoot – indeed you can often see it naked eye with just a little averted vision. However I find that M45 can be deceivingly challenging to edit. Pulling the dust out without blowing the stars out is a fine balance. That’s why I’ve chosen to include it this month.

Key Info:

RA: 3hr 47m 01s
Dec: +24°07’05”
Con: Taurus
Type: Reflection Nebula w/ Star Cluster

M45 The Pleiades, The Seven Sisters, Subaru
M45 I imaged. I got some of the dust but due to a gradient I had to fix, I lost it on the left side

700-800mm

Equivalent to:
183/533 Sensor: 259-296mm
294/1600 Sensor: 350-400mm
Canon APS-C: 437-500mm
Nikon/071/2600: 466-533mm
Full Frame/5D/6200: 700-800mm

I put it to you, dear reader, that one of the most amazing objects in the Northern Hemisphere’s skies lies within Perseus. This emission nebula is a large, billowing cloud of interstellar dust and gases that resembles the state of California, USA.

By that logic, my inclusion for The Night Sky January at 700-800mm focal length is NGC 1499 – The California Nebula. Also known as the Dragon Nebula, NGC 1499 is rather large. It would also benefit from being imaged at wider focal lengths as well. But I’ve decided to recommend 700-800mm as this allows nice framing with the star Menkib, as well as focusing on some of the cloud formations within the nebula.

The California Nebula will always be one of my main loves in this hobby. It was the first target I sunk 20 hours into, and my first real attempt at HaRGB imaging. I’ll always recommend this target where I can!

Key Info:

RA: 4hr 03m 19s
Dec: +36°25’25”
Con: Perseus
Type: Emission Nebula

NGC 1499 shot with the Optolong L-eXtreme

1000mm

Equivalent to:
183/533 Sensor: 370mm
294/1600 Sensor: 500mm
Canon APS-C: 625mm
Nikon/071/2600: 666mm
Full Frame/5D/6200: 1000mm

At 1000mm for The Night Sky January I’ve chosen a well-known target. But one that is, amazingly, overshadowed by an even more well known target. Usually playing second fiddle to M42, my suggestion this month is actually IC 434 & NGC 2024. That is the Horsehead Nebula & The Flame Nebula.

Arguably some of the most breathtaking nebulae in our skies, The Horsehead Nebula and the Flame Nebula don’t hide how they got their name. The dark nebulous regions against a curtain of excited hydrogen gases in the Horsehead, and the intricate and delicate flame structure within the Flame Nebula.

These targets really respond well to HaRGB. You can go full SHO palette if you so wished, but from what I’ve seen – and in my own opinion – HaRGB shows this off best. It keeps the wonderful star colours and natural colours of the nebulae, but the added hydrogen alpha really extenuates the details hidden in the cloud curtain and the flame.

My HaRGB of The Horsehead & Flame. A pride of joy image of mine!

Key Info:

RA: 5hr 40m 49s
Dec: -2°30’01”
Con: Orion
Type: Emission Nebula w/ Some Reflective Elements

1500mm

Equivalent to:
183/533 Sensor: 555mm
294/1600 Sensor: 750mm
Canon APS-C: 937mm
Nikon/071/2600: 1000mm
Full Frame/5D/6200: 1500mm

Whilst I’m on the topic of targets being overshadowed by more popular options. I think this next galaxy is also one of those. Located close to the biggest galaxy of the lot – Andromeda – this galaxy is a fantastic example of loose yet intricate detailing.

My inclusion for 1500mm focal length in The Night Sky January is M33 – The Triangulum Galaxy. I’m yet to get an image of Triangulum that I’m really happy with. But it is up there as one of my favourite galaxies. I think it’s stunning, with it’s tilted-to-us face and wispy detailing.

Being a galaxy it requires broadband imaging. However due to its size and apparent facing towards us, M33 will also actually benefit from a bit of hydrogen-alpha data being thrown in there. This will help highlight the nebulae within Triangulum Galaxy and make those details pop. Mind-blowing to look into another galaxy, and see their nebulae as well!

Key Info:

RA: 1hr 33m 51s
Dec: +30°39’44”
Con: Triangulum
Type: Spiral Galaxy

M33 Triangulum Galaxy

2000mm

Equivalent to:
183/533 Sensor: 740mm
294/1600 Sensor: 1000mm
Canon APS-C: 1250mm
Nikon/071/2600: 1333mm
Full Frame/5D/6200: 2000mm

Finally for 2000mm during The Night Sky in January I wanted to highlight another galaxy that isn’t often looked at by itself. Normally it’s viewed, and imaged, with its companion galaxy. As such, with a narrower field of view that comes with 2000mm focal length – and especially if you have large apertures to match – this target comes into its own. Allowing it to shine and resolve the beautiful fine details that it holds within.

My decision for 2000mm is M81 – Bode’s Galaxy. A wonderful open spiral galaxy that’s located within Ursa Major. It is close to the pole, so some may struggle getting good guiding on this target. However with modern software with PHD2 or the ASI Air devices, I’ve never found any difficulty guiding here.

Bode’s Galaxy is another galaxy that will benefit marginally from some hydrogen-alpha added in. You can really see nebulous regions popping. However don’t worry if you don’t add the Ha as M81 can stand well enough on its own. The hydrogen-alpha really benefits its companion M82 better. But we’ll talk about that more in coming months.

Key Info:

RA: 9hr 55m 35s
Dec: +69°03’39”
Con: Ursa Major
Type: Barred Galaxy
Dist: 11.8 million light years

M81 (top right) & M82 (left). Bode’s Galaxy is a wonderful target presented in HaRGB

Planets

Moving onto what planets are available for viewing and imaging throughout The Night Sky in January now. Planetary photography is something I’m new to and haven’t got much experience in. But I know you planet hunters are a passionate group.

To have been included in this list; I’ve made sure that the planet is actually in dark enough skies to photograph, and the planets must rise more than 20° altitude for about an hour. These are taken from my latitude within the United Kingdom which is about 52° North. So depending on where you are in the Northern Hemisphere, your viewing conditions may vary.

Let’s begin!

Mars

Beginning with the Red planet of them all and possibly the third most popular planet depending on who you ask. Mars is the next planet away from the Sun after Earth. Being half the distance to the Sun further away than Earth. 1.5 AU.

Mars is also the closest most habitable planet that we can think of and of course has huge emphasis on it these days for colonisation.

Planet Mars. Credit: NASA

Jupiter

The big one in the Solar System. Jupiter is available for photographing and viewing throughout The Night Sky January. It is only really good for the beginning half of the month however. As it begins to transit and set earlier and earlier as we move around the Sun.

Jupiter is the largest planet in our Solar System. 11 Earths could fit across the equator of Jupiter. Not only that but it is 5 times further from the Sun than we are, sitting at 5.2 AU. It’s orbital period is 12 years! So one year on Jupiter is 12 Earth years. Not to mention either Jupiter’s beauty, with it’s imposing size and stature over us. Complete with the Great Red Spot it’s arguably most famous for.

Jupiter. Credit: NASA

Uranus

The final planet available to view and photograph during The Night Sky January is Uranus. Originally named George, Uranus is a beautiful cyan coloured planet towards the outer edges of our solar system. An ice planet that is a staggering 19.8 AU away from the Sun. Just again as reference, Earth is 1 AU.

These stats make Uranus a relative challenge to image well. Not only is it small because of its distance, but it will also be a lot dimmer. We can usually point out the closest planets in our night sky by our naked eye: Venus, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn. But have you ever spotted Uranus or Neptune?

If you have the equipment for it, and the clear enough skies then Uranus is a target worth gunning for this month in our skies. Good luck!

Beautiful cyan droplet. Uranus. Credit: NASA

Moon Phases & Naming

In case you’re hunting for the Lunar X & Y, want a super high resolution image of our closest satellite. Or if you’re wondering when to get the Hydrogen-Alpha filters out, or just have an early night in bed. Here are the Lunar phases for the month of January

  • Full Moon: 6th January
  • Last Quarter: 15th January
  • New Moon: 21st January
  • First Quarter: 28th January
  • Moon Name: Wolf Moon

Native Americans & Europeans in the Medieval times called January’s Moon the Wolf Moon after the howling of wolves. The wolves were thought to be howling about the lack of food during the midwinter times. Other names include the Old Moon and the Ice Moon. From the University College of London’s Almanac it’s rather lazily called the Moon after Yule.

January Events

Here’s a list of events that are happening throughout January that I think may be of interest to you. Again, these are based off of my latitude within the United Kingdom so your mileage may vary depending on how how or low you are on Earth.

Comet C/2022 E3 (ZTF)

Kicking off January correctly we have a comet screaming through the Solar System which has the potential to become a naked eye comet! Last time I remember this happening was in 2020 with Comet Neowise.

Comet C/2022 E3 will reach its perihelion (closest approach to the Sun) on January 12th. However its closest approach to Earth will be February 1st. During this window, we may get the chance to see it in our skies, where it is expected to develop its maximum tail length. The Moon will be near its New Moon phase also, which means Lunar won’t interrupt our viewings. So let’s hope for clear skies on these dates!

Pleiades and Moon Close Together

On January 3rd the Pleiades, M45, will be visually close to the Moon. So much so that a 300mm camera lens (on a full frame body) will capture both celestial targets in one frame.

Saturn & Venus Near The Moon

January 23rd treats us to a mini Solar System carriage as the planets Saturn and Venus appear close to the New Moon. However, due to the fact it is New Moon, and Venus is involved. You just know it’s going to happen during light hours of the day. Venus never really leaves about 20° visual distance from the Sun. So whilst this little event is happening, chances are we won’t be able to see or image it 🙁

Moon & Jupiter Nearby

The Waxing Crescent Moon will be visually nearby Jupiter in The Night Sky. Happening on the 26th January, a 100-20mm camera lens on a full-frame body will be able to capture both of these entities in one frame. It may be that you’ll have an image of The Moon with a slightly bright “star” in the frame. But we both know what it actually is.

Moon, Mars & Pleiades Nearby

Finally The Night Sky January sees us off for events with a nice display. The open star cluster Pleiades (M45) again gracing us with an appearance close to the Moon, with Mars thrown in for good measure. Almost like fire and ice, the red planet will contrast nicely with the blue reflection of The Seven Sisters. The Moon will be after its 1st quarter also, so you can actually see some Moon too.

This wonderful display will be happening on the 30th January, and a 100-150mm focal length is what you’ll need to capture them all in one frame. Good luck as getting a nicely presented M45 may take stacking, and then some compositing to make a visually striking image.

Meteor Showers

January plays host to one of the larger meteor showers to grace the Northern Hemisphere. The Quadrantids. Radiating from the constellation Böötes, this meteor shower could see a maximum of 110 meteors an hour!

Beginning on the 28th December, and going through until the 12th January. The peak of the meteor shower, when we pass through the highest volume of material left from Asteroid 2003 EH, is the 3rd-4th January.

The downside to this meteor shower is that the peak dates also coincide with a waxing Gibbous moon. The brightness from this Moon will interfere and reduce the amount of meteors we can see and photograph. Regrettable, but since meteor showers are reliable, we can hope that next year brings us a Quadrantids without no Moon.

Quadrantids

Key Info:

Dates: 28th December – 12th January
Peak: 3rd – 4th January
Con: Böötes
Max Rate: 110 meteors an hour
Moon: Waxing Gibbous

Location of Meteor Shower Credit: earthsky.org

The Night Sky In January Is Over

And that about wraps this up. That is The Night Sky in January all covered. It’s a busy month to kick us off into 2023. With plenty to view, image and look forwards to. Particularly comet C/2022 E3, I’m personally quite excited by that one!

I hope this guide has given you some inspiration and some ideas of what to get out and image during January. Perhaps after a relaxed December and festive celebrations, it’s time to get the cameras and telescopes back out and look forwards to what 2023 has to offer!

Thanks so much for reading, I hope you have clear skies. Keep looking up and keep them cameras clicking. See you in the next one!

The Night Sky January Video

If you wish to watch this breakdown instead, feel free to find the video on my YouTube channel!

Related Links

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