December 2023 is a busy month in the night sky!
December 8 – Mercury at its Evening Peak
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 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
Photo credit: Henry Lee via Flickr
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.
December 15 – The Orion Nebula is Well-Placed
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!