Stargazing in December

how to learn stargazing

The new year is coming, take the opportunity to also celebrate the wonders of heaven.
Click on your location: Northern hemisphere | Southern hemisphere

Northern hemisphere

Star map of December in the Northern hemisphere

Stargazing in December in the northern hemisphere

1) Bode’s Nebula (M81 & M82 galaxies)

Observation hours: all night.

M81 is a spiral galaxy that can almost be seen from the front while M82 has the appearance of a “cosmic cigar”. The two galaxies interact with each other and are close enough to each other to be seen together in detail. To locate them, move 10° northwest of Dubhe (Alpha Ursae Majoris).

bode's nebula m81 m82

2) Auriga cluster (M36, M37 & M38)

Observation hours: all night.

The Auriga constellation hosts three of the most important clusters cataloged by Charles Messier. Located in the southern half of the constellation, they are unavoidable when viewed with low magnification. Open clusters are common on the Milky Way plane, and remind us that the Milky Way is shaped like a spiral.

auriga constellation

3) Castor

Observation hours: three hours after dusk until dawn.

At this time of year, the “twin stars”, Castor and Pollux, are high in the sky. Although she is designated Alpha, Beaver is not as bright as Pollux. Through a telescope, we see that Castor is in fact a visual binary star, each of them being itself a spectroscopic binary. Their orbital period is approximately 470 years.

castor star

4) Orion Nebula (M42)

Observation hours: between 10 p.m. and 2 a.m.

The Orion nebula is a must this season. The strong brilliance of this region of star formation is explained by the heat produced in its heart by very young stars. Its arched shape is clearly visible through binoculars or a telescope. You will find it in the middle of the Orion’s Belt.

orion nebula m42

Southern hemisphere

Star map of December in the Southern hemisphere

Stargazing in December and January in the southern hemisphere

1) Eight-Burst Nebula (NGC 3132)

Observation hours: all night.

Located in the Vela constellation, the Eight Shard nebula is magnificent when viewed through a high magnification telescope. The pale star in the center is a double star, the less bright of the two being a white dwarf. This nebula is located northwest of the Velorum star.

ngc 3132 eight burst nebula

2) M47 (NGC 2422)

Observation hours: all night.

The Puppis constellation is located in the Milky Way and contains several open clusters. M47, which hosts between 50 and 100 stars, is one of the most beautiful open clusters. It is located 1,600 light years from Earth. To locate it, move 5° east-northeast of Sirius. If you use binoculars, you should also see M46 in the eyepieces.

m47 ngc 2422

3) Southern Pleiades (IC 2602)

Observation hours: all night.

This young star cluster is over 50 million years old and covers a large area of the southern sky. The cluster, observed through binoculars or with a large aperture telescope, is as beautiful as the “boreal” Pleiades in the Taurus constellation. You can also spot it with the naked eye. The cluster encircles Theta Carinae.

southern pleiades ic 2602

4) Tarantula Nebula (NGC 2070)

Observation hours: all night.

In the Large Magellanic Cloud galaxy, the Tarantula nebula is one of the largest and most active star-forming regions in the local group. If it were in place of the Orion nebula, the nights would be less dark. Telescopes allow to see its structure and many details.

ngc 2070 tarantula nebula

Image credits

  • Bode’s Nebula (M81 and M82): Markus Schopfer, Mschcsc 19:25, 28 May 2007 (UTC) / CC BY-SA (
  • Auriga cluster (M36, M37 & M38): Till Credner / CC BY-SA (
  • Castor: Red-band image from the Second Digitized Sky Survey (DSS2), measuring 30 arcminutes across.
  • Orion Nebula (M42): 2MASS project / Public domain
  • Eight-Burst Nebula (NGC 3132): Hubble Heritage Team (STScI/AURA/NASA/ESA) / Public domain
  • M47 (NGC 2422): ESO / CC BY (
  • Southern Pleiades (IC 2602): Roberto Mura / Public domain
  • Tarantula Nebula (NGC 2070): TRAPPIST/E. Jehin/ESO / CC BY (