December's Guide to the Bright Planets
Which planets can be seen in the night sky? In the Sky Watch for December 2018, Bob Berman highlights December’s planet conjunctions, meteor showers, and more night sky wonders.
Sky Watch December 2018
by Bob Berman, as featured in The Old Farmer’s Almanac
Our astronomy editor, Bob Berman, sets you up for the best in night sky sightseeing each month, with special tips for finding bright planets and stars, eclipses, meteor showers, and other celestial objects and events.
- Venus excels as a dazzling morning star, up before the Sun. The planet is now at greatest brilliancy at a gorgeous shadow-casting magnitude –4.9. Nicely high at predawn twilight, it’s below the Moon on the 3rd. Learn more about Venus at its Brightest!
- Jupiter is also a morning planet now. By mid-December, it should be easier to see before sunup; the Giant Planet rises an hour or so before the Sun. On the 6th, returning Jupiter takes its turn dangling below the crescent Moon.
- Zero-magnitude Mars stands above the Moon on the December 14, with both about halfway up the southern sky at nightfall.
- Mercury also joins the morning crew. Before sunup, look for Mercury below Venus. On December 21, Mercury and Jupiter are quite close, some 10 degrees high, 40 minutes before sunrise. A beautiful sight on the solstice!
- On December 31, look for a Mercury, Jupiter, and the crescent Moon forming an line-up in the sky one hour before sunup.
More Night Sky Wonders
- This month, there are four great nights to follow the Moon, starting December 8! See our December sky map for a four-night tour!
- The Geminid meteors should be excellent on December 13, after the Moon sets at around 10:30 P.M. See the Geminid Meteor Showers page for viewing tips!
- 2018’s brightest comet—46P/Wirtanen—comes closest to Earth on December 16! See my comet viewing tips.
- Winter begins with the solstice, on the 21st at 5:23 P.M. ET. This year, it’s almost a full Moon on the winter solstice!