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.
A series of meteor showers occur in such quick succession that you might almost grow tired of wishing on ‘shooting stars;’ there are also good opportunities to spot solar system neighbors, watch the celestial dance of our Sun and Moon, and mark the astronomical calendar with the December solstice. Whatever drives you out to enjoy the night sky this month, be sure to bundle up – even in the southern hemisphere, it gets chilly at night.
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.
It was most recently updated in November 2021.
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 4 – Total Solar Eclipse
As you might recall from my November night sky guide, the lunar eclipse last month indicates that a solar eclipse is on the way. In this case, it’ll be hard to see unless you’ve planned ahead to be in the part of the world where totality is visible…
In fact, only the southernmost tip of South Africa will see any part of the partial solar eclipse; the rest of the solar eclipse (and totality) are visible only from Antarctica and the far southern Atlantic ocean. While there are a few cruises that have planned to be in the area for the event, this solar eclipse is so difficult to see – especially at late notice and with the ongoing pandemic – that most people will probably not concern themselves with trying to see it.
If you are curious to learn more, check out my solar eclipse guide for this late 2021 Total Solar Eclipse.
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.
Thanks to the new moon on December 4th (as part of the solar eclipse), you’ll have great prospects for seeing meteors on the 6th.
December 7 – Conjunction of the Moon & Saturn
Do you remember this time last year, when Saturn and Jupiter were so close together in the night sky? They were approaching their Great Conjunction – it was such a cool astronomical event!
Just one year on, Saturn and Jupiter continue to distance themselves in the night sky, as evidenced by how far apart their close approach/conjunction with the Moon occurs each month. One year has resulted in a two-night “distance” in the sky.
Saturn remains first to meet with the Moon, appearing 4°11′ apart in the sunset hours of December 7th. They’ll be too far apart to view through a single telescope or binocular field of view, but look for the crescent Moon and lovely ringed Saturn in the constellation Capricornus; they should be easy to spot.
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 7 – Venus at Greatest Brightness
After all the bombastic activity that kicks off December, this particular astronomy event in December isn’t super thrilling – but it will be eye-catching all the same!
On the night of December 7, Venus will reach its greatest brightness of its 2021-2022 evening cycle. It will shine at magnitude -4.7, very close to the brightest it ever gets (-5). Venus will also be near its peak in the evening sky, which occurs on December 5th; the position will be relative to your latitude, but no matter where you are, you can look for Venus in the same part of the western sky the sun has set. If your skies are clear and you can’t see Venus this night, you’re just not looking in the right direction!
December 9 – Conjunction of the Moon & Jupiter
As mentioned, Jupiter now has its chance for a close approach/conjunction with the Moon on the night of November 9th. The two will appear at their closest – 4°28′ apart in the sky – after sunset on that night, and will ideally placed for viewing in the southern sky. Two days older than when it met Saturn, the Moon will be 36% illuminated this night, and bright Jupiter will also be easy to spot.
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 10 – Asteroid 44 Nysa at Opposition
Have you been hunting asteroids this past year? I’ve been highlighting good opportunities to try and spot asteroids each month – and there have been good ones almost every month of the year so far!
For your final chance, mark your calendar for December 10th, when asteroid 44 Nysa will reach opposition and be brightly lit by the sun. You’ll of course need an aide (binoculars or telescope) to see this large, bright main-belt asteroid – but as it was discovered in 1857, I’m confident that you’ll be able to manage with modern technology like a good telescope and a star-finder app.
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 14 – 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 – it’s a great show!
Look for meteors coming from the constellation of Gemini. Use the bright stars of Castor and Pollux to spot the constellation in the Northeastern sky (for most viewers). Meteor activity is expected to peak around 2:00am local time on the 14th.
Unfortunately, the moon will be 85% and in its waxing 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 2021 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; for most viewers it will be low in the northwestern sky.
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 almost at its new phase the sky will be exceptionally dark.
Do you have questions about these December night sky events? Let me know in the comments!