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 as it ends. 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.
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In the Sky This Month
December 4: Gemini Rising
The twins of Gemini arc high across the sky on December nights. Right now, the constellation is low in the east-northeast by about 8 p.m. and passes almost directly overhead in the wee hours of the morning.
December 5: Moon and Regulus
Regulus, the bright heart of Leo, the lion, shines close to the gibbous Moon the next couple of nights. The star is below the Moon as they climb into view by midnight tonight.
December 6: Sculptor
The constellation Sculptor is in the south at nightfall, to the lower left of Fomalhaut, the only bright star in that part of the sky. Sculptor has no bright stars of its own, so you need to get away from city lights to see any of the constellation.
December 7: Sculptor Galaxies
A collection of galaxies known as the Sculptor Group spreads across the constellation Sculptor and adjoining Cetus. One of the group’s most impressive members is NGC 247. Although too faint to see with the eye alone, it’s an easy target for a small telescope.
December 8: Orion Nebula
Orion clears the eastern horizon by about 8 p.m. Its most prominent feature is its belt of three stars. The Orion Nebula, which is the faint smudge of light to the lower right of the belt, is a vast stellar nursery.
December 9: Moon and Spica
Spica, the leading light of the constellation Virgo, stands to the lower right of the Moon at first light tomorrow. Spica consists of two stars, but most of the system’s light comes from the bigger star. It is destined to explode as a supernova.
December 10: Geminid Meteors
The Geminid meteor shower should be at its peak on Sunday night. It’s one of the year’s best showers, and frequently offers some especially bright meteors. It spikes quickly, however, so there aren’t many meteors before or after the peak.
Last Dec. 7, 6:37 pm
New Dec. 14, 10:17 am
First Dec. 21, 5:41 pm
Full Dec. 29, 9:28 pm
Times are U.S. Central Time.
Perigee December 12
Apogee December 24
The full Moon of December is known as the Long Night Moon or Moon Before Yule.