21 Must-See Astronomy Events in the December Night Sky (2022)
While December is a month of extremes – cold and dark in the northern hemisphere and opposite in the southern – it’s also one of the best months of the year for amateur astronomers and stargazers.
December 2022 is also a busy month in the night sky – there’s the standard (and impressive) spate of meteor showers that pepper the calendar, as well as close visual approaches and lunar occultations with almost all of the visible planets (and one that requires equipment to spot). There’s also the December Solstice, which marks the changing season, and an ideal opportunity to see a neighboring galaxy. In short, there’s no shortage of reasons to bundle up and head out under the cold, clear skies of this month.
If you need a telescope to help enjoy this month’s night sky events, we have a guide to the best stargazing telescopes and binoculars. On that page you’ll find resources on how to find a good piece of astronomical equipment that fits your budget and helps unlock the wonders of the December night sky.
Ready to explore? Read on for all of the December night sky events you can see in the coming month.
This post was originally published in December 2017, and is updated annually, most recently in November 2022.
December 2 – Peak of the Pheonicid Meteor Shower
While December is best known for two other meteor showers – the highly active Geminids mid-month and the lesser but still impressive Ursids in late December – the first meteor shower of the month is actually on the night of December 2nd. On this night, the Phoenicid Meteor Shower peaks with only a small number of meteors per hour.
For most viewers in North America, the Phoenicids will be below the horizon and not visible. This is because the radiant point in the constellation Phoenix is best visible from nearer the equator and the southern hemisphere. For stargazers in Central and South America, Southern Europe, the Middle East, Africa, Southeast Asia, and Oceania, this is a fun chance to try and spot a different meteor shower this month.
December 5 – Lunar Occultation of Uranus
All jokes aside about the moon and Uranus, the occultations continue! (And will continue to do so throughout 2023.) The final lunar occultation of Uranus in 2022 will happen on the night of December 5th; those in the viewing area (eastern Europe, the northern Middle East, and Russia) will be able to use a telescope to spot Uranus appearing to pass “behind” the moon. (More jokes!)
For the rest of us, we’ll see a close approach between the moon and Uranus. The actual moment of close approach/lunar occultation will happen during the day for those of us in the western hemisphere, but they’ll still appear in the same part of the sky once the sun sets.
December 6 – Peak of the φ-Cassiopeid Meteor Shower
If you’re ready for another chance to spot meteors, consider heading out in the morning of December 6th. This night is also the peak of the φ-Cassiopeid meteor shower which is right in the same part of the sky as Comet Borisov may be spotted.
To try and spot φ-Cassiopeid meteors, look for the radiant point in the constellation of Cassiopeia in the sky. You may spot only a few meteors per hour from this point. Based on the earth’s rotation on the night of December 6th, the majority may be short-tailed as the enter right “at” us. Unfortunately, due to a nearly-new moon, it might be hard to spot some of these meteors.
December 7 – Lunar Occultation of Mars
As I mentioned, 2023 is a year of many lunar occultations, and we’re starting to see that already this month. In the morning hours of December 7th, the moon will pass in front of Mars for some viewers; for others they will appear very close together in the sky.
The lunar occultation of Mars will be visible to those in most of North America and parts of western Europe, sort of the opposite of the lunar occultation of Uranus a few days earlier. Everywhere else, look for Mars to be within 1° of the moon at their closest approach. Best of all, the pair will be easy to spot: the moon is full on December 7th too, and Mars will be at opposition on December 8th and thus brightly lit.
December 7 – Peak of the Puppid-Velid Meteor Shower
Are you tired of meteor showers yet? On December 7th there’s yet another meteor shower at its peak: the little-known Puppid-Velid meteor shower.
Radiating from a point between the Puppis and Vela constellations in the sky, you can potentially spot a few meteors meteors per hour this night. For the best odds, plan to be out stargazing between midnight and 3:00am local time.
December 9 – Peak of the Monocerotid Meteor Shower
For southern hemisphere stargazers, here’s another meteor shower for you! For the whole night of December 9th, look for meteors from the radiant point in Monoceros. As many people aren’t familiar with the faint constellation of Monoceros, look for it in the space between Orion to the west, Gemini to the north, Canis Major to the south, and Hydra to the east. The best meteor-spotting prospects will be between 1:00am and 3:00am local time.
December 12 – Peak of the σ-Hydrid Meteor Shower
December 12th is the peak of yet another meteor shower in December: the σ-Hydrid meteor shower. On this night, you can spot a few meteors per hour from the radiant point in the constellation Hydra.
The best time to try and spot meteors will be in the pre-dawn hours from 2:00am to 5:00am, local time, on the morning of 12th. However, you should be able to see some meteors after sunset on December 11th if that’s the time you choose to head out stargazing.
December 12 – Large Magellanic Cloud is Well Placed
For those in the southern hemisphere, this one’s for you! The Large Magellanic Cloud will reach its peak in the sky in mid-December, reaching its highest point around midnight local time depending on where you are located.
If you’re not familiar with – or have never seen – the Magellanic clouds, these two irregular dwarf galaxies are besties with our own Milky Way and travel through the universe with us. The Large Magellanic Cloud is a mere 163,000 light years away, whereas the Small Magellanic Cloud is 206,000 light years away.
December 13 – Peak of the Geminid Meteor Shower
If you haven’t seen any of the meteor showers so far month, December 13th-14th is the night for it! On this night, the Geminid meteor shower will peak with up to 120 meteors per hour – but we probably won’t see that many.
Look for meteors coming from the constellation of Gemini. Use the bright stars of Castor and Pollux to spot the constellation in the Northern sky (for most viewers). Meteor activity is expected to peak around in the pre-dawn hours of the 14th, but will be seen throughout the night of the 13th-14th. (Gemini rises around 10pm on the 13th, so it’s possible to spot them all night after that.
Unfortunately, the moon will be 60% and in its waning gibbous phase; this means it will likely present some challenges to spotting all of the meteors that occur this night. If you have your heart set on heading out for the Geminids – moonshine or not – , here’s my full guide of how to see the 2022 Geminids meteor shower.
December 16 – Peak of the Comae Berenicid Meteor Shower
For most northern hemisphere viewers, the Comae Berenicid meteor shower will be below the horizon. Southern hemisphere stargazers can enjoy this meteor shower at its peak on the night of December 15th-16th (the peak will likely occur sometime between midnight and 2:00am on the 16th). On this night, you can see up to 3 meteors per hour from the radiant point in the constellation Leo.
December 19 – Peak of the December Leonis Minorid Meteor Shower
Meteors, meteors, everywhere! While the December Leonis Minorid Meteor Shower is one of the lesser-known and least active of the month, it’s still a fun astronomical event if you find yourself out for a winter solstice celebration and the skies are dark.
On the night of December 19th, look for up to 3 meteors per hour from the radiant point in Leo Minor; the constellation will move high across the southern sky for most viewers.
December 21 – December Solstice
For the northern hemisphere, December 21 marks the winter solstice. We’ve got a great list of winter solstice celebrations to inspire you on the longest night of the year… Or you could just plan on some stargazing as the moon will be only 18% illuminated.
In the southern hemisphere, it’s the shortest night of the year – the summer solstice. We have a list of cool summer solstice celebrations if you’re curious about those too!
December 22 – Peak of the Ursid Meteor Shower
While the Geminids are the star of December’s meteoric events, don’t forget that the Ursids occur too, peaking on the 22nd this year. The Ursids occur from December 17th to 26th. This year, you can expect to see Ursids in the pre-dawn hours of the 22nd, when the radiant point (Ursa Minor), is at its highest point in the sky.
Look for the North Star to find Ursa Minor, and then scan the whole northern sky to try and spot these meteors as they occur. As Ursa Minor is a circumpolar constellation, it’s possible to try and spot meteors the entire night. Also, the moon will be at its new phase, and the sky will be exceptionally dark.
December 24 – Mercury at its Evening Peak
While there won’t be a Christmas comet or Great Conjunction this year, Mercury will sub-in to mark the major December holiday: on Christmas Eve, you’ll have a chance to spot tiny Mercury after the sun dips below the horizon.
Since Mercury is so close to the sun, we can only observe it when it reaches its “highest” aka visually furthest from the sun. This occurs cyclically as part of Mercury’s 88-day orbit; sometimes Mercury reaches its “peak” in the morning, then in the evening. In any case, on December 24th, you’ll be able to see Mercury at 12° above the western horizon just after sunset. This is a great opportunity to head out and try to spot the smallest planet.
7 Other Astronomy Events in the December Night Sky
As this list was getting pretty long, I decided to condense a few of the astronomical events I usually include every month, as well as a few of the more challenging solar system and deep space objects you can see, into a short list. If your skies are clear and you want to bundle up for additional nights of stargazing, here are the nights to do it:
- December 1 – Conjunction of the Moon and Jupiter; the two will appear 2°30′ apart at their closest, in the constellation Pisces, in the hours after sunset.
- December 1 – Asteroid 349 Dembowska at opposition; look for this large asteroid in the constellation Taurus, not far from Mars.
- December 15 – NGC 1981 is well placed; this open star cluster in Orion’s sword will reach its highest point around midnight local time and be excellently placed in the sky for viewing.
- December 26 – Conjunction of the Moon and Saturn; spot these two 4°00′ apart in the southeastern sky just before sunrise.
- December 28 – NGC 2232 is well placed; spot another open star cluster in the constellation Monoceros, around midnight local time.
- December 29 – Conjunction of the Moon and Jupiter; these two have another close approach, appearing just 2°18′ apart at their closest in the pre-dawn hours.
- December 29 – NGC 2244 is well placed; find one more open star cluster this month, in the picturesque rosette nebula, within the constellation Monoceros.
Do you have questions about these December night sky events? Let me know in the comments!
Can’t believe the ‘Kiss between Venus and Saturn’ on Deceember11th isn’t mentioned here??
Great question. To be honest, there’s a lot of hype for an event that’s not going to be easy to see, which is why we didn’t include it. The conjunction (not “kiss” or “embrace”… any idea where those words came from???) is happening in the twilight hours in the southwestern sky and low above the horizon – and won’t seem wildly spectacular unless you have a telescope capable of giving you a more nuanced view of Saturn (ability to see the rings). Otherwise it will mostly look like Venus passing another star…
I saw two light steaks travelling in the sky on 19th Dec’2021 from Delhi NCR , India. I saw this on naked eye evening around 5:30pm. It was in low altitude level. And 2 light steaks seems to be crossing but not sure about the plane. One travelling towards downward direction and the other in upward direction. Then it got hidden by clouds. After 5mins again I spotted and it looked like it took some U-turn. I have captured video of the first few mins when I noticed this. Can you please tell me what are those lights? Is it any meteroids? May I know how to share the video with you?
I’m not sure what that would be, Gayathri, but my guess is that it’s not meteorites given the way they were moving through the sky.
Oh okay!! Anyhow thanks for replying to my query🙂