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Sky Guides: Stargazing, weather and more!

For the month of December

Fall Sky Map © Wil Tirion

December Constellations

At nine pm on December evenings, the constellation Cygnus is taking a swan-dive into the northwestern horizon, and nearby Vega, the brilliant alpha star in the constellation Lyra, is just setting. Ursa Minor, the Little Bear or the Little Dipper, hangs almost vertically from Polaris, the North Star, which marks the tip of its tail or, alternatively, the end of the handle of the dipper.

The Great Square of Pegasus is conspicuous in the western portion of the sky, with the stars of Andromeda running from its uppermost corner. On a very dark, clear night (with no moon) try to spot the Great Andromeda Galaxy. Look for a fuzzy patch of light above the middle of the two lines of stars that form Andromeda. This spiral galaxy is the most distant object the eye (unaided by binoculars or a telescope) can see.

Between Pegasus and the North Star are Cassiopeia, the Queen, shaped like a spread out, upside-down W, and Cepheus, the King. The Milky Way runs up through Cygnus and arcs overhead and through the eastern sky and the winter constellations.

Farther around to the east and northeast are Procyon, sometimes called the Little Dog Star, in the constellation Canis Minor (the Little Dog), and Castor and Pollux, the Twins, in Gemini. The Big Dipper, which forms the hindquarters of Ursa Major, the Great Bear, is standing on its handle low in the northeast.

The southeastern quadrant of the sky is a show of bright, colorful stars. Orion, the Hunter, is the most famous, adorned with the bright red star Betelgeuse, marking one shoulder, and brilliant white Rigel, at the opposite knee. Three white, evenly spaced stars in a straight line mark Orion's belt and serve as pointers to other stars. A line drawn along the belt and extended westward points to the reddish star Aldebaran, marking the eye of Taurus, the Bull, and farther still to the Pleiades, or Seven Sisters, star cluster.

If you extend the line of the belt to the east it points to Sirius, the Dog Star, the alpha star in Canis Major (the Great Dog) and the brightest star in the sky. Above Orion to the east is Capella, the alpha star in the pentagonal constellation Auriga, the Charioteer.

The southwestern part of the sky has no bright stars at this time, for Fomalhaut, the alpha star in Piscis Austrinus, the Southern Fish, is just setting. The dim stars of Cetus, Pisces, and Aquarius run though this part of the sky, sometimes called the celestial sea because of the aquatic nature of its constellations.