Night Sky Map for December 2024: Rotation of the Stars

Primary Image

The Rotating Sky and Motion of the Stars

Print Friendly and PDF
No content available.

Are you a stargazer? If you find Polaris—the star right above the North Pole—you’ll see that all the stars wheel around it during the night! Pretty cool! See our mid-December Sky Map as a guide.


Just click here or on the image below to open the printable map—then bring outside!

December printable sky map

Note: You’ll need to do your star gazing from a very dark location to see many of the sights described here.

This Month’s Highlight: The Stars Go Round and Round

The sky is always in motion. Or, to be more accurate, the sky *appears* to be in constant motion due to the rotation of the Earth on its axis.

Think of the movement of the hands of a clock. Polaris, also called the North Star or the Pole Star, is the center of the grand celestial “sky clock” in the Northern sky. 

Polaris appears directly above the North Pole. Polaris always remains nearly stationary, while all of the other stars and constellations appear to revolve around it slowly. 

Just as the hands of a clock revolve around the center of the clock’s face, so the sky appears to revolve around the Celestial Pole as the Earth rotates on its axis.

The stars of the northern sky appear to rotate counter-clockwise around Polaris. And just as with a clock, the movement is slow.

Stars Revolving Around Polaris

You can find Polaris easily; once spotted, you’ll always see it in the northern sky at night. 

Look at the sky map and face the North. We will find the Big Dipper, the most famous star pattern. On the map, it’s located at the bottom, directly below Polaris, at 8:00 p.m.  

The Big Dipper rotates a full circle around Polaris in a counterclockwise direction daily. Look for seven major stars: four in the “bowl” and three in the “handle.” The two stars outside the bowl are called the “pointer” stars. These two stars, Dubhe and Merak, point to Polaris.


The Big Dipper’s stars pointing to Polaris. Credit: NASA/Jerry Lodriguss

 Simply draw a line from Merak through Dubhe, and go about five times the Merak/Dubhe distance to Polaris. When you turn your body towards Polaris, you are facing North.


If you waited six hours—until 2:00 a.m.—and looked at the northern sky again, the Big Dipper would have revolved to a position directly to the right of Polaris. All of the other stars on the map will have moved, too. This movement is caused entirely by the rotation of the Earth on its axis.


A few constellations are near enough to Polaris that they never drop below the horizon, as do constellations farther from the North Star. The constellations close to Polaris are thus visible all night and every night of the year for observers at mid-northern latitudes, such as the 48 United States and much of Europe, and are known as circumpolar constellations. There are six of them, highlighted in green on our map:

  1. Ursa Minor, the Lesser Bear (including Polaris);
  2. Ursa Major, the Greater Bear (including its Big Dipper asterism);
  3. Camelopardalis, the faint Giraffe;
  4. Cassiopeia, the Queen (with her distinctive Big W or M shape);
  5. Cepheus, the King (looking like a child’s drawing of a house); and
  6. Draco, the Dragon (whose four-sided head is especially distinctive).

These six circumpolar constellations perpetually chase one another around Polaris.

However …

On a cosmic time scale, different stars take turns as our North Star. It turns out that the Earth wobbles slightly as it spins through space, just as a spinning toy top wobbles as it slows down. This means that the axis of the Earth does not always point at Polaris. Over a period of about 26,000 years, the Earth’s axis traces out a huge circle in the sky, and over time, it points toward bright stars other than Polaris, as shown on the inset on our map.

  • For example, between 4,000 and 6,000 years ago, the Earth’s axis pointed at Thuban, a star in the body of Draco, and so Thuban was then the North Star.
  • About 13,000 years from now, the Earth’s axis will point toward the bright star Vega, which will then be our North Star.
  • And in 26,000 years, the axis will again point at Polaris, making it our North Star.

For much of the 26,000-year period, the Earth’s axis points to no bright stars. So, for thousands of years at a time, we have NO North Star at all!

December Sky Map

Click here or on map below to enlarge the sky map (PDF).

December 2020 Sky Map 
Sky map produced using Chris Marriott’s Skymap Pro

Our sky map does not show the entire sky, which would be almost impossible. Instead, the monthly map focuses on a particular region of the sky where something interesting is happening that month. The legend on the map always tells you which direction you should face, based on midnight viewing. For example, if the map legend says “Looking Southeast,” you should face southeast when using the map.

The map is accurate for any location at a so-called “mid-northern” latitude. That includes anywhere in the 48 U.S. states, southern Canada, central and southern Europe, central Asia, and Japan. If you are located substantially north of these areas, objects on our map will appear lower in your sky, and some objects near the horizon will not be visible at all. If you are substantially south of these areas, everything on our map will appear higher in your sky.

The items labeled in green on the sky map are known as asterisms. These are distinctive star patterns that lie within constellations. When getting your bearings under the stars, it’s often easiest to spot an asterism and use it as a guide to finding the parent constellation.

The numbers along the white “Your Horizon” curve at the bottom of the map are compass points, shown on degrees. As you turn your head from side to side, you will look in the compass direction indicated by those numbers. The horizon line is curved to preserve the geometry of objects in the sky. If we made the horizon line straight, the geometry of objects in the sky would be distorted.

About The Author

Jeff DeTray

Jeff DeTray helps to guide new star-watchers into the world of astronomy with his website, AstronomyBoy.com. He also creates beautiful in-depth sky charts for the Old Farmer's Almanac. Read More from Jeff DeTray

No content available.