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!
- Geminids Meteors - Bundle up and get outside after nightfall on December 13th to see "shooting stars" streak across the sky during the peak of the Geminids meteor shower. The Geminids normally produces up to 100 meteors per hour at its peak, so it's well worth braving the cold and getting outside to catch this impressive celestial lightshow. This year, the Moon will be just two days past its New phase on the 13th, meaning the sky will be plenty dark for great meteor visibility. Look for meteors to radiate out from the general area of the constellation Gemini. Some meteors will be visible on the nights before and after the peak, from December 7th through the 16th. All you need to enjoy the show is a lounge chair, a warm blanket, and your eyes!
- Giant 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 winter nights, Jupiter can bear a lot of magnification. Don't be afraid to try catching views around 200x of the gas giant planet when it is high in the sky above the more turbulent air near the horizon. Medium and large telescopes can be used to see the stripes of Jupiter's massive equatorial cloud bands. 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 EQ Mak-Cass 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 the gas giant planet 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 Perseus. 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 December binocular targets with our popular Orion Mini Giant 9x63 Astronomy Binoculars, or if you prefer a more powerful view, grab a pair of Orion Mini Giant 15x63 Astronomy Binoculars. Both the Mini Giant 9x63 and 15x63 models have great eye-relief and big, 63mm objective lenses for bright observations.
- Best Telescope Targets - All of the binocular targets listed above also make great telescope quarry, but December skies offer great opportunities to see objects that require a telescope too. 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 the Orion StarSeek app and 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 XT10g GoTo Dobsonian Telescope. With its motorized GoTo system, the big XT10g will lead you on a guided tour of these elusive celestial treats while its 10" aperture provides 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.
Orion customer Angel Camacho sent us this awesome photo of M33, the Triangulum Galaxy, which he captured from the dark skies of Danbury Connecticut using an Orion 8" F/3.9 Newtonian Astrograph attached to the precise Orion Sirius EQ-G GoTo Mount. Angel skillfully combined 300 separate DSLR exposures to create this stunning astrophoto displaying the intricate structure of this spiral galaxy. Thanks for the great photo Angel!
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.