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What's In the Sky - December
What's In the Sky - December

December brings cold winter nights and some of the clearest skies of the year for many locations. Bundle up to keep warm and get outside for some holiday stargazing fun!

Plan a Star Party - The weekend of December 28th and 29th will have nice dark skies thanks to the waning Moon, so it's a great time to plan a star-party with friends and family to break-in any new telescopes and binoculars Santa brings down the chimney!

Watch for Comet ISON - We're hoping Comet ISON survives its trip around the Sun in late November because if it does, it should be visible with unaided eyes in December. Assuming the comet survives, the best views will be during the first half of the month. The comet will be closest to Earth on December 26th, when it will be about 40 million miles away from our home planet - believe it or not, that's pretty close in space. Keep your eyes peeled and keep binoculars and telescopes handy for what we hope to be a spectacular show in December skies.

Geminids Meteors - During the nights of December 12th and 13th, the Geminids meteor shower will be in full force. Since the First Quarter Moon occurs on December 9th, the best time to see meteors will be in the early pre-dawn hours of the 12th and 13th. All you need to enjoy the show is a lounge chair, a warm blanket, and your eyes!

Big Jupiter - The largest planet in our solar system will be nicely positioned in the eastern sky throughout December. If the air is stable and seeing conditions are good, which is common on colder, windless winter nights, Jupiter can bear a lot of magnification, so don't be afraid to try catching views around 200x of the gas giant when it is high in the sky. Check in on Jupiter nightly to see its four brightest moons (Io, Europa, Ganymede and Callisto) change position night-to-night as they orbit the planet.

Enjoy great views of gigantic Jupiter with the Orion StarMax 127mm Equatorial Maksutov-Cassegrain Telescope and 1.25" Orion Jupiter Observation Eyepiece Filter. The long 1540mm focal length of the StarMax 127mm Mak-Cass is ideal for high-magnification observations of Jupiter and the Jupiter Filter helps to reveal subtle cloud band and storm details.

Best Binocular Targets - While 50mm binoculars are good for December stargazing, bigger 70mm, 80mm, or larger binos will reveal brighter and better views of celestial gems, of which there are plenty to enjoy in December skies. The glorious open star cluster Pleiades (M45) will be nearly overhead in the constellation Taurus. A little more north and overhead you'll find the Andromeda Galaxy (M31) which really shines in big binoculars. Slightly to the northwest of M31 you'll see the beautiful Double Cluster of Perseus. Finally, our namesake nebula, M42 The Orion Nebula, will be rising in the eastern sky during December nights and makes for a beautiful sight in binoculars. We suggest exploring these binocular targets with our value-packed Orion 15x70 Astronomical Binocular & HD-F2 Tripod Bundle or Orion 20x80 Astronomical Binocular & XHD Tripod Bundle for great views. You'll enjoy hours of binocular stargazing fun without tiring your arms since both bundles include stable tripods.

Best Telescope Targets - All of the binocular targets listed above also make great telescope quarry, but December skies also offer great opportunities to see objects that require a telescope. First, slew your scope just a few degrees southwest of M31 to find M33, a distant face-on spiral galaxy that's about 2.5 million light years (MLY) away from Earth. In the constellation Sculptor far to the south, try to find NGC 253, the impressive "silver dollar" galaxy. There's a swarm of other galaxies to see in the general area of NGC 253 - all part of the "Sculptor Group" of galaxies. Use a star chart or computerized object locator to hunt them down. In Pisces, look for M74, another face-on spiral galaxy like M33, but one that is almost 30 MLY farther away from us. Finally, check out NGC 1300, a classic barred spiral galaxy that is approximately 61 MLY away from Earth with a monster black-hole in its nucleus.

Chase down these deep-sky delicacies with the help of our Orion SkyQuest XT10i IntelliScope Dobsonian Telescope. With its IntelliScope object-locator system, the fan-favorite XT10i will tell you just where to find these elusive celestial treats and its 10" aperture will provide bright views.

December Challenge - With a 10" or larger telescope from a dark sky site, try to track down the picturesque Horsehead Nebula near the eastern star of Orion's belt, which is named Alnitak. An Orion Hydrogen-Beta Nebula Filter will help reveal this famous nebula's intricate details.

 

All objects described above can easily be seen with the suggested equipment from a dark sky site, a viewing location some distance away from city lights where light pollution and when bright moonlight does not overpower the stars. All objects have been verified by actual observations by Orion Telescopes & Binoculars Staff at Fremont Peak State Park, and/or Deep Sky Ranch, 60 miles and 90 miles respectively from San Jose International Airport, San Jose, CA.

Details
Date Taken: 11/22/2013
Author: Orion Staff
Category: Observing Guides

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