Beginner Deep Sky Objects – March to May

When you are beginning Deep Sky Objects, this time of year can be a little bit of a challenge if you don’t have a large focal length telescope.

Large nebulae are either setting within a few hours of sunset, or rising in the morning, limiting time on those objects. The objects this time of year are rather small from our perspective, but they are doable. When you are beginning Deep Sky Objects, this time of year can be a little bit of a challenge if you don’t have a large focal length telescope.

In this post, I will list seven objects you can capture with small focal lengths.

Of course there are some rules

  • Rising shortly after dark or at least before midnight – maximize time on it 
  • Doesn’t require a whole lot of focal length…. Camera lens or small telescope, so even if all you have is a 70-300 kit lens, all of these will work for you!
  • Not going to be setting before dawn – which is why we’re grabbing a lot of eastern targets….except the first target


This time of year is a little challenging for smaller focal lengths, as it is known as “Galaxy Season.” The Earth is looking away from the galactic center, and as a result, a bunch of galaxies are visible. Because of this, there aren’t a lot of large objects visible, which means there are few nebulae visible at this time.

So, we go for groups or pairs of things or even star clusters.

So, because of that, I recommend that if you have at minimum, a 70-300mm zoom lens, you’ll need to use that.

The Beehive Cluster

M45 as seen in Stellarium

Starting off, we’re going to break one of the rules… this deep sky object will set before dawn.

But, the Beehive is an excellent object for multiple focal lengths, from 135 on up to 400.

One of the few objects we can see with the naked eye, this one has been known since ancient times. It looks like a fuzzy object without any optical aid.

How to find: Start with Orion, go to Pollux, then halfway to Regulus

Info about the Beehive Cluster:

  • Distance: 610 ly
  • Magnitude: 3.7
  • Object Type: Open Cluster
  • Constellation: Cancer
  • Catalog: M45

Leo Triplet

My Leo Triplet image from 2021

Moving a little east we are going with the Leo Triplet. This group consists of three galaxies all oriented slightly differently, but from our perspective, fairly close together in a single field of view.

This one is a little more challenging for smaller focal lengths, but it is still doable. However, You can start at 135mm and work your way all the way up to 710mm.

How to find: Look for the tail end of Leo, and look for the star Chertan, halfway between that and the star 78 Leo, is the triplet.

Info about the Leo Triplet:

  • Distance: ~35mil ly
  • Magnitude: 8.9
  • Object Type: Galaxy Group
  • Constellation: Leo
  • Catalog: M65/66, NGC 3628

Markarian’s Chain

Markarian’s Chain as seen in Stellarium

This next deep sky object is a group of objects that form a neat pattern, a cool curved line. This one leaves a bit of room to work with and can leave you staring at your image to count exactly how many galaxies show up in your frame.

As with the last object, you will want to start with 135mm. But, you can go all the way up to to 560mm to get some detail without needing to create a mosaic.

How to find: Start from Chertan, and go over to Denebola. Go about the same distance, and the chain is there.

Info about Markarian’s Chain:

  • Distance: 50-55 mil ly
  • Magnitude: 11
  • Object Type: Galaxies
  • Constellation: Virgo
  • Catalog: Various, Most Notable M84 and 86

Pinwheel Galaxy

Pinwheel Galaxy as seen in Stellarium

The next two are mainly only for the northern hemisphere, and the first one is the pinwheel

Very popular galaxy that we are looking top down on, there’s quite a bit to do here.

You can start wide at 135mm (and see which background galaxies start to show up), and you’ll make out the shape of it, or go all the way up to 710mm to get some details.

How to find: I usually start with the handle of the dipper, and use Alkaid and Mizar as my signposts. From there I draw a triangle. It’s not an equilateral triangle, but close. It’s right there at the top!

Info about the Pinwheel Galaxy:

  • Distance: 21 mil ly
  • Magnitude: 7.9
  • Object Type: Spiral Galaxy
  • Constellation: Ursa Major
  • Catalog: M101

Bode’s Galaxy

M81 and M82
M81 and M82, first light on the ASI 294MC-Pro!

An excellent pair of galaxies that can show different things from each of them. Bodes can show quite a bit of the blue spiral arms, and the Cigar has some Ha that can be pulled out.

Like the pinwheel, the focal lengths are similar:

For focal lengths, start at 135mm, and you can go all the way up to around 1000mm or more if you want to do one or the other. If you want to do both in the same frame, you’ll need to stay below 560mm and rotate the camera to frame it right.

How to find: In the “big dipper” start at Phecda and drawn a line to Dubhe. From there, keep going about the same distance, and they are located there!

Info about Bode’s Galaxy:

  • Distance: 12 mil ly (bodes) / 11mil ly (cigar)
  • Magnitude: 6.9 (bods) / 8.4 (cigar)
  • Object Type: Spiral Galaxy / Starburst Galaxy
  • Constellation: Ursa Major
  • Catalog: M81 and 82

Wishing Well Cluster

Wishing Well as seen in Stellarium

Moving south, here’s two for the southern hemisphere, and the first one is the wishing well cluster

This cluster is fairly large, and if you expose long enough, you can get the nebulosity associated with it.

Starting at 135mm, you can capture the nearby Carina Nebula, but to focus on the cluster, you can go all the way in to 710mm, so there’s a lot of room to work with.

How to find: If you are in a dark enough spot, you’ll see the Carina Nebula easily with the naked eye. You will want to look near it for the star χ Car. The Wishing Well cluster is right next to that star…from our perspective.

Info about the Wishing Well Cluster:

  • Distance: 1321 ly
  • Magnitude: ~3
  • Object Type: Open Cluster
  • Constellation: Carina
  • Catalog: NGC 3532

Running Chicken Nebula

Running Chicken as seen in Stellarium

The other southern target is the Running Chicken Nebula.

The only actual nebula on the list for this time of year, those of you in the southern hemisphere have plenty of options with this one, since this nebula is pretty large.

Focal length: you can go real wide at 85mm, like I said this nebula is huge. With 50mm you can get the Wishing well and carina with the right framing, but you’ll need to stay below 400mm to get the whole thing in one frame.

To find it: Use Crux as a landmark to start, and go to the star λ Centauri, which is Lambda Centauri. Again, if you are in a dark enough spot, that star will be halfway in between Crux and Carina. λ Centauri is the bright star in the picture above!

Info about the Running Chicken Nebula:

  • Distance: 6500 ly
  • Magnitude: 4.5
  • Object Type: Emission nebula
  • Constellation: Centaurus
  • Catalog: IC 2944


If you would prefer, you can watch the video below to get a better idea of how to find these targets:


The period between March and May can be challenging to those with a setup that has less than 400mm focal length, but here is plenty to work with at that length. Of course, if you are an early riser, you can get the Milky Way Core rising just before morning as well.

After you get home, you will need to process it. If you don’t know what to use, head over to my Master List of currently available software for all steps from planning to completed image. In that list, I have the software, the devices they can run on, and the cost if there is any.

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