Weekly Stargazing Tips

Provided by StarDate.org. Unless otherwise specified, viewing times are local time regardless of time zone, and are good for the entire Lower 48 states (and, generally, for Alaska and Hawaii).

December 17: Saturnalia

Today is the date of Saturnalia, an ancient Roman festival tied to the upcoming winter solstice. It honored Saturn, a god of agriculture, and it was the biggest party of the year — a week-long holiday that ended with rounds of gifts.

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.