Stargazing Information

As fall gives way to winter, some of the most spectacular stars and constellations in the night sky wheel into prime viewing hours. Orion, the hunter, is in view for most of the night as the month begins, and all night by December’s end. A rectangle of four bright stars outlines his body, with his three-star belt at the rectangle’s center. The belt points toward Sirius, the brightest star in the night sky. Other bright sights include the twins of Gemini, yellow-orange Capella high overhead, and the V-shaped face and orange eye of Taurus.

This Week's Stargazing Tips

December 18: Moon and Saturn

A bare wisp of a crescent Moon shines down on the planet Saturn at dawn tomorrow. Saturn is close to the lower left of the Moon, and looks like a bright golden star.

December 19: More Moon and Saturn

The bright planet Saturn stands close to the upper right of the Moon at dawn tomorrow. Saturn has more than 60 known moons of its own, including one with hydrocarbon lakes on its surface and another that shoots geyers of water into space.

December 20: Deep Vision

If you gaze long enough into a dark sky, it seems like you can see forever. That’s not quite the case, but you can come close: The most distant object that’s easily visible to the unaided eye, the Andromeda galaxy, is 2.5 million light-years away.

December 21: Winter Solstice

Winter begins in the northern hemisphere this afternoon, as the Sun appears farthest south in our sky for the year. This point is known as the winter solstice, and it brings the shortest day of the year.

December 22: Rigel

Rigel, the brightest star of Orion, the hunter, is low in the east-southeast in early evening, to the right of Orion’s Belt. It is more than 20 times as massive as the Sun, dozens of times larger, and roughly 100,000 times brighter.

December 23: Northern Cross

The stars offer a holiday decoration this evening: the Northern Cross, which is also known as Cygnus, the swan. Its brightest stars form the shape of a crucifix, which stands almost straight up from the northwestern horizon at nightfall.

December 24: Moon and Mars

Mars and the Moon stage a pretty encounter this evening. Mars looks like an orange star close to the left of the Moon. They are low in the southwest at nightfall and set a couple of hours later.

Check last week's tips if you missed a day.


©2014 The University of Texas McDonald Observatory