Night sky in December – northern hemisphere

Highlights: Venus brilliant in December’s evening sky. Jupiter bright before dawn.

skimp thumbnailWelcome to Skymania’s guide to the night sky in December, 2016. You will find a map of the whole visible sky, which can be adjusted for any time and date, plus information on the position of the planets, phases of the Moon, and notable astronomical events to watch out for. (To open the sky map in a separate window, click here.)

For the night sky in the southern hemisphere, click here.

The sky in December 2016

Summary: Venus shines brilliantly in the evening sky, with Mars nearby. Jupiter is dominating the morning sky for early risers. Uranus is still well placed for binocular users. (If you don’t own an optical aid, we’ve advice on choosing binoculars or a telescope here) .

The planets

mercurythmMercury will be hard to spot this month, only briefly emerging into the evening twilight for a few days in the second week of the month when it will be very low and close to the southwest horizon from the northern hemisphere, shining at zero magnitude. After that it gets too close to the Sun again for the rest of the month. Here’s more on how to observe Mercury.

venusthmVenus is becoming a prominent object in the evening sky, to the south-southwest, and its brightness at magnitude -4 means that many casual members of the public will remark on it and enquire what it is. Through a small telescope, the planet will resemble a gibbous moon a little over the half phase. Here are tips on how to observe Venus.

marsthmMars is still shining in the evening sky where it may be found a little to the upper left of Venus from northern latitudes. Though Mars is heading away from Earth and towards conjunction with the Sun in July next year, it is actually becoming easier to see because it is climbing the ecliptic as it races eastwards from Capricornus into Aquarius. Its brightness fades from 0.6 to 0.9 over the course of the month. Find out more about Mars here including maps to show its position in the sky.

jupiterthmJupiter, the biggest planet in the Solar System, is very well placed for observers willing to check out the sky in the later hours of the night. It does not rise until around 2.30 UT at the start of December and more than two hours earlier by the end of the month. The planet lies in Virgo and shinign brightly at almost magnitude -2. A small telescope will reveal the planet’s belts and bands as well as the four main moons, known as the Galilean satellites, Io, Europa, Ganymede and Callisto. Read more about Jupiter.




saturnthmSaturn is not on our observing menu for most of the month as it is too close to the Sun in the sky. The ringed planet reaches superior conjunction, on the Sun’s far side, on December 10. If you have a good southeastern horizon, you might spot Saturn when it returns to the morning sky towards the end of the month and rises about an hour before the Sun, shining at magnitude 0.5.
uranus_thmUranus is visible for much of the night. The planet is just visible to the unaided eye if you have an exceptionally clear, dark sky, but binoculars make it much easier to spot. You can find it in shining at magnitude 6.0 in the constellation of Pisces. Our guide will help you to locate Uranus, and you can also read more about the planet here.
neptune_thmNeptune, the last of the eight worlds recognised as planets in our Solar System, is visible with binoculars or a small telescope as soon as it gets dark, in the constellation of Aquarius, shining at magnitude 7.6. A telescope will show a tiny disk and give a hint of its bluish hue.

The Moon

The Moon always makes a great target for a small telescope, which come into view as its phases change. We’ve a guide to where to find 50 of the best lunar features, plus a checklist to download so you can tick them off as you spot them! Don’t have a telescope? Here’s our guide to choosing one.

Phases of the Moon

Phase First Quarter: Dec 7
Full Moon: Dec 13
Last Quarter: Dec 20
New Moon: Dec 29
Image courtesy U.S.N.O.
Fifty fantastic features – our amazing Moon

moon_in_relief_thmHere’s our guide to observing some of the finest sights on the Moon with small telescopes. Click here for pages of charts that will help you find interesting features to seek out yourself, including craters, lava flows, mountain ranges and deep chasms!