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 2023 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 was updated most recently in November 2023.
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 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.
The waning crescent moon will provide a bit of obstruction but not much if you decide to head out and spot these meteors.
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, if you’re at the right latitude. For most of us in the northern hemisphere, the radiant point of the shower will be below the horizon all night, but those further south might spot a few meteors if the conditions are right.
December 8 – Mercury at its Evening Peak
Having only just spotted the smallest planet for the first time earlier this year, I always love a good opportunity try and get out to see Mercury before sunrise or after sunset; in December, your opportunity is the latter.
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 8th, you’ll be able to see Mercury at 10° above the western horizon just after sunset. This is a great opportunity to head out and try to spot the smallest planet.
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.
You’ll want to use a star-finder app for this one, as it depends on both your latitude and time of viewing as to whether the radiant point will be above the horizon.
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 14 – Peak of the Geminid Meteor Shower
If you haven’t seen any of the meteor showers so far month, December 13th-15th 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 sunset on the 14th, so you can potentially see meteors on the night of December 13th and the night of the 14th. Best of all, the moon is in a highly agreeable phase from the perspective of light obstruction: it will be a waxing crescent through this meteor shower and around 10% illuminated at most.
If you have your heart set on heading out for the Geminids, here’s my full guide of how to see the 2022 Geminids meteor shower.
December 15 – The Orion Nebula is Well-Placed
Here’s a fun astronomical event I’ve never included in these lists before: your best observing opportunity for one of the few nebulae you can see with your unaided eye – though as we all know, the Orion Nebula really pops when you pull out a telescope or binoculars for a closer look.
On the night of December 15th, the Orion Nebula will be particularly well-placed in the night sky for viewing; Orion will reach its zenith around midnight local time on this night. Best of all, Orion is visible to most of the world, so if you’re between 64°N and 75°S, you can try to spot it!
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 20 – 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 20th, 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 23 – 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 23rd this year. The Ursids occur from December 17th to 26th. This year, you can expect to potentially spot Ursids all night in the northern hemisphere.
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. Unfortunately, the moon will be in its waxing gibbous phase and particularly bright if the skies are clear, so be prepared for potential interference from that.
Do you have questions about these December night sky events? Let me know in the comments!