December 2013 Night Sky Guide
Your guide to constellations, deep-sky objects, planets and events, Tonight’s Sky, Highlights of the December Sky
Lovely Venus hangs low in the southwestern sky after sunset. Use a telescope to make out its slender crescent profile.
By nightfall, Jupiter hovers above the eastern horizon. As the night progresses, Jupiter climbs higher into the night sky.
Constellations and Deep-Sky Objects
Two prominent constellations in the December night sky represent notable individuals of ancient Greek mythology.
The great hero Perseus holds the head of Medusa the Gorgon.
Located in Perseus is M34, an open star cluster about 1,400 light-years away from us.
Open star clusters are groups of young stars that all formed at the same time within a large cloud of dust and gas.
Look for it with the naked eye or with binoculars in a dark sky.
Queen Cassiopeia was punished for her conceit and vanity by being tied to her throne. Cassiopeia’s “M” or “W” shape makes this constellation easy to identify.
Eta Cassiopeiae is a wonderful and colorful double star. Use binoculars or a small telescope to discern its gold and blue hues.
M103 in Cassiopeia is a fine open star cluster with a prominent red star near the center. Its fan shape is evident in binoculars.
Lying between Cassiopeia and Perseus is the lovely Double Cluster. This pair of open star clusters is easy to see with binoculars.
The Double Cluster resembles a handful of diamonds scattered on black velvet, with a ruby in between.
Both Mars and Saturn are morning planets this month. Look for them in the southeast before sunrise.
The mid-December night sky hosts the lovely Geminid meteor shower. The shower peaks on the night of December 13th to 14th.
Expect to see the most meteors after midnight, zipping away from the constellation Gemini.
This year, the faintest Geminids will be difficult to spot until the Moon sets a couple hours before dawn.
The night sky is always a celestial showcase.Explore its wonders from your own backyard.
Produced by the Space Telescope Science Institute, Office of Public Outreach
Starfield images created with Stellarium
Mythological constellation forms from Firmamentum Sobiescianum sive
Uranographia by Johannes Hevelius, courtesy of the United States Naval Observatory
Venus image courtesy of Mario Weigand
Jupiter image courtesy of Todd Gross
M34 image courtesy of MicroObservatory Robotic Telescope Network
Eta Cassiopeiae image courtesy of Kevin Muenzler, eaglecreekobservatory.org
M103 image courtesy of Hillary Mathis, N.A.Sharp/AURA/NOAO/NSF
Double Cluster image courtesy of Tim Hunter and James McGaha
Saturn image courtesy of John Endreson
Mars image courtesy of Matt Wedel
Narrated by Nancy Calo
Music written by Jonn Serrie
Production: Lucy Albert, Greg Bacon, John Bintz, John Godfrey, and Vanessa Thomas