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 15: Auriga

Auriga is low in the east-northeast as night falls and climbs high across the sky later. It is marked by a pentagon of stars. It’s easy to pick out thanks to the brightest member of that figure, Capella, which is one of the brightest stars in the night sky.

December 16: Messier 37

Messier 37, a 500 million-year-old star cluster, climbs high overhead during the night. It’s not quite visible to the unaided eye, but it’s a fairly easy target for binoculars. It probably is about 5,000 light-years away, and contains about 500 known stars.

December 17: Saturnalia

Today is the beginning of Saturnalia, an ancient Roman festival. The early Christian church may have adopted December 25 as the date for Christmas in part to counteract the appeal of Saturnalia and other festivals.

December 18: Zodiac

As twilight fades away, the zodiac arcs high across the southern sky. It is a trail of constellations with one thing in common: The Sun’s path across the sky traverses their borders, so the Sun passes through each of those constellations during the year.

December 19: Jupiter and Mercury

Jupiter and Mercury, the largest and smallest of the solar system’s major planets, are getting together in the dawn sky. For the next few days, they will be separated by less than the width of your finger held at arm’s length. Jupiter is the brighter of the two.

December 20: Moon and Aldebaran

The eye of the bull — the star Aldebaran — stares into the Moon tonight. The brightest star of Taurus is to the lower left of the Moon at nightfall. The Moon will move closer to Aldebaran during the night, to less than the width of a finger held at arm’s length.

December 21: Solstice

Today is the winter solstice. It is the shortest day of the year in the northern hemisphere. The Sun rises late, sets early, and scoots low across the sky during the day. The Moon is full, so it is in view longer than any other full Moon of the year.