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 2: Disappearing Triangle
Even though winter is almost here, the Summer Triangle remains in good view. It is well up in the west at nightfall. Its brightest point is the star Vega, more than a third of the way up the sky. Deneb is above it, with Altair far to the left of Vega.
December 3: Earliest Sunset
Although the shortest day of the year, the winter solstice, is almost three weeks away, much of the United States is seeing the earliest sunsets of the year about now. The date of earliest sunset varies with latitude, with the date getting later as you go north.
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.
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.