Astrophoto of the month: Seagull Nebula takes flight

Our astrophoto of the month is a beautifully detailed image of IC 2177, more commonly known as the Seagull Nebula.  (Image credit: Rod Prazeres)

Our astrophoto of the month is a beautifully detailed image of IC 2177, more commonly known as the Seagull Nebula. 

The image was captured by amateur astrophotographer Rod Prazeres from Brisbane, Australia who started his astrophotography journey in 2023. 

"It's a steep learning curve but I am enjoying every step of the way," Prazeres told Space.com in an email.

The Seagull Nebula is a dramatic spectacle located on the border between the constellations Monoceros and Canis Major that resembles a seagull in flight. The large bright emission nebula spreads out over about 100 light-years

"This closer view, the result of over 21 hours of dedication, not only highlights the nebula's vivid beauty but also the awe it inspires, bridging the cosmic with the personal," Prazeres continued. 

Equipment used:

Imaging telescopes: William Optics RedCat 51 II

Imaging camera: ZWO ASI2600MM Pro 

The luminous cloud at the "head" of the seagull nebula glows bright due to the energetic radiation from the hot young star within it, known as HD 53367. If you look towards the center of the image, slightly to the right is a bluish arc. This is a bow shock from runaway star FN Canis Majoris as it speeds through space, its stellar winds interacting with the interstellar medium, the material and radiation between stars. 

Nebulas are found in the interstellar medium. They play a key role in the life cycle of stars, both at their birth and death. Stars are born in dense clumps of gas, dust, and other material inside diffuse emission nebulas, also frequently referred to as "stellar nurseries". When stars like the sun reach the end of their life as compact white dwarfs, they shrink further and release clouds of gas which form so-called "planetary nebula". This is a rather misleading name because such nebulas have nothing to do with planets.

How to get involved

Each month Space.com chooses an "astrophoto of the month" to celebrate and acknowledge the stunning images captured by our readers. 

For your chance to be considered, please send your send your photo(s), comments, and your name and location to spacephotos@space.com. From the full moon to deep-space targets, the Starlink satellite train to planetary conjunctions, we want to see it all! 

If you're inspired by these photos and are thinking about purchasing some new kit, our guides to the best telescopes and best binoculars are a great place to start.

Our best cameras for astrophotography and best lenses for astrophotography, as well as our Astrophotography for beginners guides, will also help you choose the right gear to capture your next stunning space photo.  

Related: What you can see in the night sky tonight (maps)  

For any successful astrophotography venture, preparation is key. It's important to understand what you can see in the night sky and when. Here are some helpful guides designed to help you get the most out of your skywatching experience.  

Skywatching guides

Astrophotography guides

Previous winners

February 2024

This remarkable photograph of the Full Snow Moon was captured by Amartya Mishra on Feb. 24 from Kathmandu, Nepal. (Image credit: Amartya Mishra/@spaceguy_24)

Our astrophoto of the month is this stunning image of the Full Snow Moon captured by Amartya Mishra on Feb. 24 from Kathmandu, Nepal.

The full moon occurs when the moon is exactly on the opposite side of the Earth from the sun.

February's Full Snow Moon happened when the moon was close to its farthest point from Earth in its orbit, known as apogee. This meant that the full moon appeared up to 10% smaller in the night sky, not enough for most of us to notice but experienced moonwatchers like Mishra were able to tell the difference. 

"It was a really beautiful sight. The full moon did appear a bit smaller, and it was noticeable to me as I've been observing the moon for quite some time." Mishra told Space.com in an email. 

The Snow Moon gets its name due to its occurrence amid winter in the Northern Hemisphere, and February can often be the snowiest month for many parts of North America. In China, February's full moon this year marks the end of the Spring Festival, the holiday period that begins with Lunar New Year. In 2024, this full moon falls during a traditional holiday known as the Lantern Festival marking a high point in Chinese New Year celebrations.

"It was tricky for me to capture it initially as the clouds were making the full moon look very murky, but then the skies cleared and the feeling of seeing it high and bright was of pure happiness!" Mishra continued. 

You can see more of Mishra's astrophotography work on X @spaceguy_24.

January 2024

Astrophoto of the month January 2024. The "Spider Nebula" was captured by astrophotographer Ron Brecher. (Image credit: Ron Brecher)

Our astrophoto of the month is this detailed image of the emission nebula IC 417, also known as "the Spider Nebula," captured by astrophotographer Ron Brecher

Located about 10,000 light-years away in the constellation Auriga, the Spider Nebula is found in the outer part of the Milky Way, almost exactly in the opposite direction from the galactic center.

The stunning scene is energized by hot, massive blue stars embedded within, according to Brecher. Toward the center-right is a cluster of young stars called "Stock 8", according to NASA. The light from these new stars carves out a bowl shape in the nearby dust clouds.

Related: James Webb Space Telescope's stunning mosaic of Orion Nebula uncovers rogue planets (photos)

Nebulas are giant clouds of gas and dust commonly associated with both the birth of stars and their death. Emission nebulas are a type of nebula where these clouds of ionized gas and dust are heated up by the stars within and emit their own light at optical wavelengths

For those wanting a more in-depth image capture description and post-processing techniques, check out Brecher's astrophotography website

December 2023

Geminid meteor shower over Priddy Pools, Somerset, U.K. (Image credit: Josh Dury)

Our astrophoto of the month is this remarkable composite photograph of Geminid meteors streaking over Priddy Pools in Somerset, United Kingdom by Josh Dury. 

The image was captured between 8 p.m. and 10:30 p.m. local time on Dec. 13. Due to the clear skies, Dury saw over 40 meteors that night. 

Related: Meteor showers 2023: When is the next one?

" I was overwhelmed at the publicity this image received having been featured by BBC News and major UK TV and social media platforms." Dury told Space.com. 

The composite image was captured over 2.5 hours, using the Sigma 14mm F/1.4 DG DN Art Lens and Sony A7S II.

The Geminid meteor shower is active every year between Nov. 19 and Dec. 24. It peaked on Dec. 14 and provided skywatchers with quite the show

Unlike most of the meteor showers we experience on Earth, the Geminids are a by-product of an asteroid, not a comet. The Geminids are associated with near-Earth object 3200 Phaethon, an asteroid that may have undergone a collision with another object in the distant past to produce the stream of particles that Earth runs into — creating the meteor shower. 

The strange asteroid behaves like a comet and orbits the sun every 1.4 years. When Earth passes through the debris left behind by Phaethon the "asteroid crumbs" heat up as they enter Earth's atmosphere and burn up in bright bursts of light. 

November 2023

Gareth Mon Jones caught a stunning view of the aurora above Penmon Lighthouse, Anglesey. (Image credit: Gareth Mon Jones)

Our astrophoto of the month is this stunning photograph of the aurora borealis shining brightly over Penmon Lighthouse, Anglesey, North Wales, U.K., captured by astrophotographer Gareth Mon Jones.

The image was taken on Nov. 5, when a powerful geomagnetic storm supercharged auroras and STEVE around the world. Geomagnetic storms occur when  Earth's magnetic field is disturbed by solar material from coronal mass ejections (CME) — large expulsions of plasma and magnetic fields from the sun's atmosphere

Related: Aurora colors: What causes them and why do they vary? 

Auroras, known as the northern lights or aurora borealis in the Northern Hemisphere and the southern light or aurora australis in the Southern Hemisphere, are triggered when energized particles from the sun slam into Earth's atmosphere and are redirected toward the poles by our planet's magnetic field

"The person you see in the image on the right is my partner Kat Lawman, also an astrophotographer, this was her first time witnessing the northern lights from Anglesey, North Wales as you can tell by her reaction," Mon Jones told Space.com in an email. 

Mon and his partner had to study the aurora predictions carefully and keep an eye on the local weather to get the best out of the geomagnetic storm. 

"We had to keep a keen eye on the stats and the weather as it was raining and we timed our shoot to perfection or rather to our advantage as most of the country that night missed this part of the solar storm as they were in cloud most of the night," Mon Jones continued.

Equipment used

 Camera: Nikon Z6 with a 20mm at f2.2 

Exposure time: 13 seconds

Iso: 3200 

Post-processing: 7-shot panorama stitched together in Lightroom  

Aurora spectacles like this one captured by Mon are becoming more likely as the sun approaches peak activity during Solar Cycle 25. The solar cycle describes an approximately 11-year period of solar activity driven by the sun's magnetic field and indicated by the frequency and intensity of sunspots visible on the surface. 

Recent estimates suggest the sun's activity will peak between January and October 2024. 

The peak is expected to be earlier, stronger and last longer than previous estimates. As such, experts estimate the next 4 to 5 years will be the best time to see the northern lights during this solar cycle

October 2023

Rajat Kumar Pal captured this composite annular solar eclipse image from Monument Valley, Utah. (Image credit: Rajat Kumar Pal)

Our astrophoto of the month is this remarkable composite image of the annular solar eclipse on Oct. 14 as seen over Monument Valley, Utah, captured by Rajat Kumar Pal. 

The foreground landscape photo was taken shortly after sunrise as the sun can be seen just to the left of Sentinel Mesa, a 6,417-foot (1,956-meter)  mountain rising out of the desert plateau.

"I kept this as a foreground image because it shows a beautiful diffraction of the sun rays at the mesa wall and also gives an idea where the sun has risen today," Pal told Space.com in an email. 

The eclipse was captured separately and the two images combined to create a spectacular composite. 

"It was a beautiful time enjoying the eclipse in the serene company of my wife and other eclipse enthusiasts," Pal continued.

Equipment used:

— Sony A7SII

— 17-24 mm lens

— Post-processing in Photoshop CC

The annular solar eclipse caught the attention of skywatchers throughout the Americas and was visible to millions of people. For many, it served as a good "warm-up" to the total eclipse on April 8, 2024.

If this image has inspired you to plan something similar for the next eclipse our how to photograph a solar eclipse and how to observe the sun safely (and what to look for) guides may help. We also have guides on the best cameras for astrophotography and the best binoculars.

September 2023

Our astrophoto of the month is this photograph of a Super Blood Wolf Moon by Bobby Bristoe. The image was captured on Jan. 21, 2019.  (Image credit: Bobby Bristoe)

Our astrophoto of the month and winner of a signed bookplate and copy of a new book about asteroid Bennu co-authored by Queen guitarist and part-time astronomer Sir Brian May and OSIRIS-REx mission head scientist Dante Lauretta is this beautiful lunar eclipse captured by Bobby Bristoe from his backyard in Ellettsville, Indiana.

The Space.com team had a hard time sifting through the large volume of impressive entries, so thank you to everyone who took part! 

The single 13-second photo taken at 12:28 a.m. on Jan. 21, 2019, captures the red-blue hue of the lunar eclipse as the moon just starts emerging out from Earth's shadow. 

Bristoe snapped this image through his 10" SkyWatcher Telescope with a Modified Full Spectrum Canon T5i Rebel and an Astronomik CLS Filter. " The processing was done with Photoshop CS6, I did not play with the color mix other than to adjust the tint and temperature," Bristoe told Space.com in an email. 

Equipment used:

— SkyWatcher 10" Goto Dobsonian

— Canon T5i full spectrum modified Rebel

— Exposure 13 seconds ISO 100

— 60mm hole in the telescope cover

— Astronomik CLS filter

"The most challenging part was that it was 0 Fahrenheit outside," Bristoe continued. "I mostly stayed in the house watching tv and would check on things every few minutes. I wanted to enjoy the eclipse but staying out more than 5 minutes was challenging." 

A lunar eclipse occurs when Earth is positioned between the sun and the moon and casts a shadow over the lunar surface. The 2019 total lunar eclipse that was photographed by Bristoe was visible to millions of people in North and South America.

The next and final lunar eclipse of 2023 will be a partial lunar eclipse on Oct. 28, 2023 and will be visible across parts of the Americas, Europe, Africa, Asia and Australia To find out when, where and how to see this year's lunar eclipses, check out our lunar eclipses 2023 guide

Do you have a space photo you'd like to share with us? Email photo(s), comments, and your name and location to spacephotos@space.com.

August 2023

Venus' changing clouds imaged over five months by Konstantinos Beis. (Image credit: Konstantinos Beis)
Equipment used:

— Skywatcher 200P Dob (8” aperture)

— Manual tracking

— ZWO ASI462MM, 2.5x Televue powermate

— UV and IR filters from Astromania. 

— The false color was prepared by colorizing the ultraviolet and infrared captures; IR (red)/ 50/50 UV/IR (synthetic Green)/UV (blue).

Our astrophoto of the month is this incredible composite image of Venus' clouds evolving over a five-month period from March to July 2023, captured by Konstantinos Beis from Wiltshire, U.K.

Beis' photos of Venus show the Venusian clouds in false color, drastically changing in size and shape over the course of the observation period. 

"I was aware that the clouds will change but not on a daily basis, so that was a pleasant surprise," Beis told Space.com in an email. "I do not remember seeing similar/repeated patterns in my images which shows how dynamic the Venusian clouds are."

Was it difficult to capture these images of Venus?

I had some technical issues at the beginning using a colour camera as it did not give me any UV clouds (lack of sensitivity at the UV region) but switching to a mono camera greatly helped and the end result is very pleasing. 

What was the biggest challenge you faced when capturing these images of Venus?

The main challenge for me is that I have a complete manual setup so finding Venus was a bit of a challenge at the beginning as I was capturing all the images during daytime with the sun high up. Venus is bright once you find it with the finder scope but not to the eye looking up at the sky. The advantage of capturing it in the daytime is that there is less atmospheric disturbance and more stable seeing to get the finer UV details. In contrast, captures in the late afternoon or after sunset give more noisy images 

July 2023

Emission nebulas NGC 6188 and NGC 6188 in the constellation Ara captured by astrophotographer Vikas Chander. (Image credit: Vikas Chander)

Our astrophoto of the month is a dramatic scene of emission nebulas NGC 6188 and NGC 6188 in the constellation Ara captured by astrophotographer Vikas Chander. 

"Painted on the canvas of the night, are two dragons fighting each other on a portion of the sky known as the Altar, or the constellation of Ara". Chander told Space.com in an email. 

The massive young stars embedded in the stellar scene formed only a few million years ago. Their stellar winds and intense ultraviolet radiation sculpt the "dragons" we see fighting in the sky and cause the nebulas to glow according to NASA.

Though NGC 6188 takes center stage, if you look toward the lower right, a rare emission nebula called NGC 6164 is visible. Its faint halo surrounds a bright central star. 

Equipment used:

Observatory: Deep Sky Chile

Date: April 20 to May 1 2023

Telescope: Takahashi E160ed

Camera: Zwo 6200mm pro

Mount: Software Bisque Paramount MX+

SII = 63 x 600s 10h 30m

Ha = 63 x 300s = 3hrs 55m

OIII = 63 x 600s 10h 30m

RGB = 10 x 60s each filter

Total integration = 24hrs55m

Software= NINA, PixInsight

"I have a particular fondness of this target and decided to image it in the classic Hubble palette, using filters that transmit light in the narrowband of SII, Ha and OIII," Chander wrote.

Chander used double the exposure time for the SII and OIII filters compared to the Ha emission as this was already very strong and required lower exposure times to achieve the desired signal-to-noise ratio.

"My fast Takahashi E160ed reflecting telescope with an aperture of 3.3 made short work of getting a large amount of exposure time" Chander continued. "A total of 25 hrs went into the imaging and I also used short RGB exposures for getting good star colours."

You can see more of Chander's work on his website www.vikaschander.com and Instagram @vikaschanderastrophotography

Do you have a space photo you'd like to share with us? Email photo(s), comments, and your name and location to spacephotos@space.com.

June 2023

Supernova SN 2023ixf in the Pinwheel Galaxy, also known as Messier 101 (M101). The supernova is the brightest point of light in the spiraling arm on the left of the galaxy as you look at it.  (Image credit: R. Mark Lilienthal)

Our astrophoto of the month is this stunning image of the new supernova SN 2023ixf in the Pinwheel Galaxy, also known as Messier 101 (M101), captured by astrophotographer R. Mark Lilienthal from Constance Bay, Ontario, Canada. 

SN 2023ixf has been making headlines since it first burst into view on May 19, 2023, when supernova hunter Koichi Itagaki from Yamagata, Japan spotted a new bright spot in the Pinwheel Galaxy. The supernova was confirmed the following day by the Zwicky Transient Facility (ZTF) in California.

Equipment used:

— Sky-Watcher Equinox 80 Pro on iOptron CEM26 with ZWO ASIAir

— ZWO ASI533MC Pro (gain 100)

— Total of 75 x 60-sec lights, 10 darks

— Stacked and processed with AstroPixelProcessor

Lilienthal started astrophotography almost two years ago and in that time has upgraded his equipment and learned stacking and processing, using AstroPixelProcessor as the main workhorse.

"This past Christmas, I acquired a previously enjoyed Sky-Watcher Equinox 80ED Pro refractor but took another couple of months to buy the iOptron CEM26 mount," Lilienthal told Space.com in an email.

It took several attempts to get the perfect setup that produced the stunning image of the M101 supernova

"Frustration with finding an elegant solution to drive all of this led me finally to acquire a previously enjoyed ZWO ASI533mc Pro camera, after which I went the last mile and bought a ZWO ASIAir to drive everything (and a ZWO ASI120mm guide camera). Of course, through most of this time, our weather here had been less than ideal for astrophotography!"

Lilienthal's "first light" image with this new setup was of M101 on May 14. 

"Everything worked well…although I did only get about 45 minutes worth of subs. I was still quite proud — round, sharp stars and good detail in the galaxy's arms," Lilienthal wrote.

But as everyone who dabbles in astrophotography knows, things aren't always straightforward. 

"With 22 May promising to be the next clear night, I was looking forward to getting another hour's worth or more of subs to add to the previous," Lilienthal wrote.

"I even resolved the meridian cross which had stopped me on the 14th. Of course, that wasn't to be. By May 22, SN2023ixf was shining in all its glory, the result of which I've shared."

"Suffice it to say that I was extremely pleased with the result."

Do you have a space photo you'd like to share with us? Email photo(s), comments, and your name and location to spacephotos@space.com.

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Daisy Dobrijevic
Reference Editor

Daisy Dobrijevic joined Space.com in February 2022 having previously worked for our sister publication All About Space magazine as a staff writer. Before joining us, Daisy completed an editorial internship with the BBC Sky at Night Magazine and worked at the National Space Centre in Leicester, U.K., where she enjoyed communicating space science to the public. In 2021, Daisy completed a PhD in plant physiology and also holds a Master's in Environmental Science, she is currently based in Nottingham, U.K. Daisy is passionate about all things space, with a penchant for solar activity and space weather. She has a strong interest in astrotourism and loves nothing more than a good northern lights chase!