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In the Sky This Month

December stargazing is always a bit confusing. The nights in the northern hemisphere are the longest of the year, providing 14 hours of darkness or more for most of the United States. On the other hand, the nights are among the coldest of the year, so viewing conditions aren’t always pleasant. You don’t have to spend hours under the stars, though, to appreciate the beauty of the night sky. Bundle up, take a warm beverage, and give your eyes a few minutes to adapt to the darkness. After that, in 15 minutes you can take in the entire sky, and even use binoculars to scan for galaxies, distant star clusters, nebulae, and other wonders.

December 8: Eridanus

Eridanus, the river, meanders through the southern evening sky. It is one of the largest constellations, stretching almost 60 degrees from north to south. Its northern end is near Rigel, the brightest star in Orion.

December 9: Sun Moves

As twilight fades away, the zodiac arcs high across the southern sky. It’s a trail of constellations with one thing in common: The Sun traverses their borders, so it passes through each of those constellations during the year.

December 10: Moon and Aldebaran

Aldebaran, the eye of Taurus, the bull, stands close to the Moon at nightfall and even closer to the Moon in the wee hours of the morning. Blocking the bright Moon with your hand will help you discern the star’s orange color.

December 11: Long-Night Moon

December’s full Moon is known by several names, including Cold Moon and Moon Before Yule. It’s also known as the Long-Night Moon because the Moon is in view for a longer time than any other full Moon of the year.

December 12: Venus and Saturn

The planet Saturn is about to disappear in the evening twilight. It’s easy to spot over the next few nights, though, because it’s near Venus, the “evening star.” They are quite low in the southwest shortly after sunset.

December 13: Geminid Meteors

The Geminid meteor shower is expected to be at its best tonight. Unfortunately, though, the Moon is just a couple of days past full. Its glare will overpower all but the brightest of the “shooting stars.”

December 14: Sirius Rising

Sirius, the brightest star in the night sky, rises about 9 p.m. and remains visible throughout the night. It twinkles dramatically as it climbs into view. Sirius is one of our closest stellar neighbors, at a distance of 8.6 light-years.

Current moon phase

First QuarterFirst Dec. 4, 12:58 am

Full MoonFull Dec. 11, 11:12 pm

Last quarterLast Dec. 18, 10:57 pm

New MoonNew Dec. 25, 11:13 pm

Times are U.S. Central Time.

Apogee December 4

Perigee December 18

The full Moon of December is known as the Long-Night Moon or Moon Before Yule.