Jupiter is easy to spot, brighter than all the stars. It’s high in the south after sunset. It sets after midnight local time in early December and is gone before midnight at month’s end. Mars rises in the east before sunset and is visible all night. It’s very red now and brighter than most stars, racing toward its December 8 opposition, when Earth will fly between Mars and the sun. Saturn is low in the southwestern sky after sunset – golden in color, shining steadily – best time for observing is right after darkness falls. It sets by around 10 p.m. local time at the beginning of December and around 8 p.m. at the end of the month. Venus, the brightest planet and next planet inward from Earth in orbit around the sun, is climbing higher each night in the sunset twilight. By the end of December, it sets about 70 minutes after sunset. Mercury is near Venus in the evening twilight and will reach greatest elongation on December 21, 2022. Start looking for Mercury right after sunset the second week of December. Visibility of this elusive planet improves throughout the month.
Visible planets (morning)
On December mornings, Mars is shining brightly in the west (opposite the sunrise horizon).
People often ask if our charts apply to them. Yes, if you’re in the Northern Hemisphere. Not as precisely, if you’re in the Southern Hemisphere. Our charts are mostly set for the northern half of Earth. To see a precise view from your location, try Stellarium Online.
In these views from ecliptic north, arrows (thinner when south of the ecliptic plane) are the paths of the four inner planets. Dots along the rest of the orbits are five days apart (and are black for the part of its course that a planet has trodden since the beginning of the year). Also, semicircles show the sunlit side of the new and full moon (vastly exaggerated in size and distance). Additionally, pairs of lines point outward to the more remote planets.
Phenomena such as perihelia (represented by ticks) and conjunctions (represented by lines between planets) are at dates that can be found in the Astronomical Calendar. Likewise, gray covers the half of the universe below the horizon around 10 p.m. at mid-month (as seen from the equator). The zodiacal constellations are in directions from the Earth at mid-month (not from the sun).
Bottom line: In December, the morning planet is Mars. In the evening, the gas giant planets Jupiter and Saturn dominate the southern sky as night falls, with Mars rising before sunset and visible all night. Venus and Mercury appear low above the horizon after sunset. You can see all five bright planets – starting the second week of December – through the end of the month.
Marcy Curran has enjoyed star gazing since she was a young girl going on family camping trips under the dark skies of Wyoming. She bought her first telescope in time to see Halley’s comet in 1985 on its way in to another close encounter with the sun. Her passion for astronomy eventually led her to being a co-founder of a local astronomical society. Marcy remains active in her astronomy club including being the editor of a monthly newsletter. She also contributes a monthly article to her local newspaper focusing on the stars, planets and objects currently visible in the nighttime sky. Marcy taught astronomy at her local community college for over 20 years. Marcy retired in December 2021 and is delighted to join Earthsky.org as an editor of night sky articles. Her hobbies - other than star gazing - include reading, knitting, jigsaw puzzles and photography. Marcy and her husband live in Wyoming.
“I can sometimes see the moon in the daytime” was a cosmic revelation that John Jardine Goss first discovered through personal observations when he was 6 years old. It shook his young concept of the universe and launched his interest in astronomy and stargazing, a fascination he still holds today. John is past president of the Astronomical League, the largest U.S. federation of astronomical societies, with over 20,000 members. He's earned the title of Master Observer and has authored the celestial observing guides Exploring the Starry Realm and Carpe Lunam. John also writes a monthly stargazing column, Roanoke Skies, for the Roanoke Times, and a bimonthly column, Skywatch, for Blue Ridge Country magazine. He has contributed to Sky and Telescope magazine, the IDA Nightscape, the Astronomical League’s Reflector magazine, and the RASC Observer’s Handbook.
Deborah Byrd created the EarthSky radio series in 1991 and founded EarthSky.org in 1994. Today, she serves as Editor-in-Chief of this website. She has won a galaxy of awards from the broadcasting and science communities, including having an asteroid named 3505 Byrd in her honor. A science communicator and educator since 1976, Byrd believes in science as a force for good in the world and a vital tool for the 21st century. "Being an EarthSky editor is like hosting a big global party for cool nature-lovers," she says.
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