January 2024 Astrophotography: Capturing the Night Sky’s Celestial Wonders

If you’re just starting out in astrophotography, January is a great month to get started. If you’re lucky enough to have clear skies in the Northern Hemisphere, you’ll have a great selection of objects to photograph, including the Orion Nebula and Pleiades Nebula (M42 and M45 respectively), the Quadrantid meteor shower, the full ‘Wolf Moon’ rise, and a new crescent moon. Here’s all you need to know this month:

The Quadrantid meteor shower is an underappreciated meteor shower that can produce up to 60 meteors an hour and there’s a good chance of seeing bright ‘fireballs’. If you’re looking to get out with your camera and try your hand at long exposure shooting stars, you’ll want to do it before the moon comes out after midnight on 3-4 January.

January 4: The Dark Sky window opens  Today, the moon is half lit from our perspective and is called a last quarter or third quarter moon. It rises after midnight and every night about 50 minutes later than the night before. This means dark moonless nights for the next 10 days, perfect for astrophotography. After the new moon on Thursday, January 11, the moon will brighten and whiten the early evening sky.

On January 8, you’ll be able to see Venus and the crescent moon. You’ll need to be awake an hour before dawn to witness this classic sight. The crescent moon is a slender, wispy crescent that slides close to the most brilliant planet in the night sky. The Earth’s satellite will be only 11% illuminated and will show ‘Earthshine’. This is when the sun’s rays reflect off the Earth’s oceans and polar ice caps back onto the moon’s surface. Look toward the southeast.

Mercury and the crescent moon on 9 January

If you wake up for the second morning in a row, you’re in for a bit of a challenge. This morning, about an hour before sunrise, the moon will only be about 5% illuminated. It’ll be right on the right side of Mercury, but it’ll be much lower in the sky than yesterday’s planetary activity.

12 January: A slender crescent moon

The youngest and slimmest moon of the month can only be seen once a month. That’s the evening after the New Moon, when the moon comes out of the glare of the setting sun. Today’s moon will be only 3% lit, so faint that you’ll need binoculars to see it over the southwest horizon. You’ll also need to hurry because it sets within one hour of sunset. Don’t start using your binoculars or cameras until the sun’s gone down. If you can’t make it to the moon today, you can always try again tomorrow when the moon will be 8% lit but easier to spot and photograph.

On January 25th, the Wolf Moon rises in full. To capture this moment, you need to be in the correct location at the correct time with the correct camera equipment. You’ll need a camera (70-300mm) with a tripod and remote shutter release to capture this moment. You’ll also need to know when moonrise is and be prepared to look eastwards from somewhere where you can see the horizon clearly. Try a few short exposures and you’ll be good to go.

Shot of the month: Daytime moon

Most people assume that the moon is visible only at night. However, it is visible in the daytime sky almost as often as it is in the night and can be photographed in a bright light—if you know where and when to look.

Our satellite sets about 50 minutes after sunrise each day. This means that the moon is already in the evening sky, near the horizon, in eastern dusk, in the few days prior to the full moon (e.g., Tuesday, 23rd and Wednesday, 24th January).

The moon is still in the early morning sky, also near the horizon, and in the western sky after sunrise in the days following the full moon (i.e., Friday, 26th to Sunday, 28th January).

If you’re using a DSLR/Mirrorless Camera with Manual Settings, Telephoto Lens, and/or a tripod, focus in on the moon for a few moments. Use a high shutter speed. As the moon approaches the horizon, it loses brightness, so you’ll have to adjust your settings as it approaches the horizon. However, the shot you’re going for is the moon during the day close to some of the foreground elements in the foreground. Mountains work well, skyscrapers do too.