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Brian Carter: The December Night Sky

The Night Sky

By Brian Carter

The December Night Sky

December is the month of the shortest nights for looking at the stars, but gives more time for daytime activities.


December is a fair month for viewing the planets. Mars, Saturn and Venus are visible all month. Jupiter will be visible in the evening twilight at the start of the month. Mercury will not be seen as it is visually too close to the Sun.

Jupiter will be visible in the early evening twilight in the Western sky for the first few days of December. At the start of the month it sets at 21 56, by December 6 at 21 42 (an hour after Sunset) and by December 22 it sets at Sunset. Jupiter starts the month in the constellation of Ophiuchus, moving into Sagittarius on December 4. Its magnitude is a constant –1.8 during the month.

Mars will be visible for all of the night except for early evening at the start of the December. At the start of the month it rises at 23 03 and by December 16 it rises at 21 48 (an hour after Sunset) and by December 26 it rises as the Sun sets. Mars is in the constellation of Gemini. From the start of the month, it brightens from a magnitude of –1.3 to –1.6 (it’s brightest for the year) on December 22, then fades to –1.5 by month’s end.

Saturn is visible for the last half of the night. It rises at 01 59 at the start of December and at 00 02 by month’s end. Saturn is in the constellation of Leo, in which it remains until September 2009. Its magnitude slightly brightens from 0.7 to 0.6 during the month.

Venus will be visible in the Eastern morning twilight sky. At the start of the month it rises at 03 48 and at 03 29 by the end of December. Venus starts the month in the constellation of Virgo, moving into Libra on December 13. Venus slightly fades from –4.2 to –4.1 during December.

Mercury is visually too close to the Sun to be seen. Mercury starts the month in the constellation of Libra, moving into Scorpius on December 4, into Ophiuchus on December 8 and finally into Sagittarius on December 19.

All times are for Wellington unless otherwise stated. Other centres may vary by a few minutes.

Phases of the Moon

Last Quarter – December 2 at 01 44.
New Moon – December 10 at 06 40.
First Quarter – December 17 at 23 18.
Full Moon – December 24 at 14 16.
Last Quarter – December 31 at 20 51.


This chart shows the sky as it appears at about 22 00 for ~December 15.

Click for big version

How To Use the Sky Charts
To use the sky chart hold it up to the sky so that the direction in which you are looking is at the lower edge of the map. For example, if you are looking at the western horizon then the map should be held so that the “WEST” label is at the lower edge. The altitude and direction of the stars and planets will then be correctly shown. The centre of the chart will be directly overhead.

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Brian Carter is the Senior Astronomer at Carter Observatory (The National Observatory of New Zealand), PO Box 2909, Wellington. (DDI; 04 920 9252, Email: , Observatory Web Site: )

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