As you'll hear in December's astronomy podcast, early risers are treated with views of Jupiter (obvious), Mars (not as easy), and Mercury (timing's everything).
December is the month of the solstice, when the Sun appears farthest south in the sky. That means winter for us and summer for Australians. This year the solstice comes December 21st at 11:28 a.m. Eastern Standard Time. This date marks the astronomical start of winter in the Northern Hemisphere and summer in the Southern Hemisphere. For us northerners, think of it as the longest stargazing night of the year!
If you're on the prowl for bright planets, the pickings are super slim in the evening sky. Venus and Saturn are lost in the Sun's glow. But if you're up before dawn (and most of us are these days), Jupiter is bright and a snap to find over the eastern horizon. With a little more effort you can find Mars to the big planet's upper right. A lovely crescent Moon cruises through this part of the predawn sky on the mornings of December 13th through 16th.
And look toward the end of December for Mercury creeping up from the horizon glow. It’ll climb a little higher and appear progressively brighter until the first days of 2018.
With all this action in the predawn sky, is there anything worth viewing after sunset? You bet! The evening sky features an amazing assortment of constellations, from Orion, the Hunter, rising in the east, to Pegasus, the Flying Horse, almost overhead. In between, and elsewhere, are a bounty of bright stars and constellations that you'll enjoy finding on December's clear, crisp evenings.
To learn how to identify them, listen to or download our monthly astronomy podcast below. It provides a 7-minute-long tour of the stars and planets that you'll see this month.