What’s in the Sky Tonight (Spring Season)?

Spring is a great time for astrophotography as there are many interesting targets visible in the night sky. Spring is also known as “galaxy season” to astrophotographers, since so many of the best objects during this time of year are galaxies.

Here are a few suggestions for what’s happening in the sky tonight in the springtime for the Northern Hemisphere:

  1. The Orion Nebula (M42) – This bright and colorful nebula is a favorite of many astrophotographers. It is located in the constellation Orion. The nebula is a great target for both wide-angle and telephoto lenses. Early to mid-March is the last realistic time to capture this beautiful object. It is one of the best objects for beginners and experts alike. It is large and bright enough to see with the naked eye. The Orion constellation hosts quite a few lovely targets. The Flame Nebula and the Horsehead nebula are also favorite targets for photography.
M 42
Leo Triplet M65 M66 and NGC 3628

2. The Leo Triplet – This group of galaxies includes M65, M66, and NGC 3628. They are located in the constellation Leo. The best time to observe this trio is from early March to mid-June.

3. The Whirlpool Galaxy (M51) – This stunning spiral galaxy is located in the constellation Canes Venatici. It is best photographed using a telescope with a focal length of at least 1000mm. It is one of the most recognizable galaxy targets. The best time to observe and photograph this galaxy is mid-March to mid-July.

M51 Whirlpool Galaxy courtesy of NASA Images

4. The Beehive Cluster (M44) – This open cluster (not as densely packed as a globular cluster) is located in the constellation Cancer and is visible to the naked eye. It is a great target for wide-angle lenses. The best time for this object is early February to mid-May.

M44 Beehive Cluster courtesy of NASA Images

5. The Virgo Cluster – This group of galaxies is located in the constellation Virgo and contains many interesting targets for astrophotography, including the Sombrero Galaxy (M104) and the Markarian’s Chain. Mid-March to mid-July is ideal for this fascinating grouping of as many as 13 galaxies for those with wide-field setups.


6. The Pinwheel Galaxy (M101) is another great spiral galaxy. It is located in Ursa Major, also home to the Big Dipper. The best time for this object is late March to late June. For those with crop sensor cameras, the recommended minimum focal length is 400-500mm. For those with a full frame sensor camera, I would recommend at least 800mm.

7. The Ring Nebula (M57) – located in the constellation Lyra, it’s a bright and well-defined planetary nebula that’s perfect for astrophotography. This object comes into view later in spring and overlaps well into summer. It is a good target from mid-June to late August. It is a small object and will require a longer focal length to achieve adequate magnification to really pull out the detail. Image is courtesy of NASA.

NASA image ring nebula
Horsehead Nebula IC 434

8. The Horsehead Nebula (IC 434) is also in the constellation Orion. And much like the Orion Nebula, it is on it’s last leg as far as viewing or photographing in the spring. Look for it low in the western sky just after sunset. For those with shorter focal lengths (something around 700 mm) and a full frame camera, you can also see the adjacent Flame Nebula (NGC 2024).

Final Thoughts

Remember to always check the weather and moon phase before heading out for astrophotography, and to use the appropriate equipment and settings for the target you want to capture. Good luck and have fun!

2 thoughts on “What’s in the Sky Tonight (Spring Season)?”

  1. What a wonderful post! There definitely seems to be many interesting targets visible in your photos. This was the perfect time to post this article on What’s in the Sky Tonight.

    I guess I’m too late for the Orion Nebula since it is only able to be seen from early to mid-March. I’m going to have to put it on my calendar for next year. I will try to locate the Leo Triplet since this one is visible from early March to mid-June.

    Another one that I would love to locate in the night sky is the Beehive Cluster from early February to mid-May. I have to try and find the ones that are visible with the naked eye since I don’t have a camera to look through. I will check the weather and the moon phase before heading outside.

    I would love for you to write an article on the equipment that a beginner could buy and use for this amazing hobby. It was such an interesting article. Thank you!


    • Thank you Carol. I am getting around to making recommendations for affordable equipment for beginners. You could probably still see the Orion Nebula. If you can make out the Orion constellation in the western sky just after dusk, look just below the 3 bright stars that form the belt. Binoculars will reveal a lot.


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