The year ends as it began, with the brilliant stars of winter climbing into the evening sky. By the end of December, dazzling Orion will be in good view by the time the sky gets dark. Sirius, the brightest star in the night sky, will rise below Orion a bit later. The twins of Gemini stand to the left of the hunter, with Taurus, the celestial bull, above, continuing the never-ending cycle of stars and planets across the night sky.
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In the Sky This Month
December 18: Fornax
The constellation Fornax rises in the southeast shortly after nightfall. It’s not much to look at; its three brightest stars form a wedge that aims toward the south. In fact, it is so faint and so far south that it wasn’t drawn until the mid-1700s.
December 19: NGC 1316
One of the nearest galaxy clusters is about 60 million light-years away, in the southern constellation Fornax, which rises in the southeast in early evening. The cluster’s brightest member, NGC 1316, is a beautiful spiral galaxy.
December 20: Winter
Winter arrives in the northern hemisphere tomorrow at 10:28 a.m. CST, which is the moment of the winter solstice. The Sun stands farthest south for the year, and it’s the shortest day of the year north of the equator.
December 21: Ursid Meteors
A poorly known meteor shower should be at its peak tonight. In most years, the Ursids produce no more than a few meteors an hour. That could be the case this year as well, although the shower also could produce a more significant showing.
December 22: December Milky Way
The Milky Way arches high overhead on December evenings. This faint band passes from the Northern Cross, which is in the west, to W-shaped Cassiopeia high in the north, to near the face of Taurus, the bull, in the east.
December 23: Twinkling Sirius
Look southeast this evening for Sirius, the brightest star in the night sky, which climbs into good view by 8 or 9 p.m. As it climbs away from the horizon its light passes through a thick layer of air, so it twinkles fiercely, changing colors rapidly.
December 24: Holiday Skies
As twilight drains from the sky this evening, look toward the west for the Northern Cross. These bright stars represent Cygnus, the swan. As the swan begins to set, though, it dives head-first toward the western horizon, so it looks like a cross.