The first official day of Winter is coming up on December 21 (when the sun occupies the Winter Solstice point and traverses its lowest arc across the sky). That means the winter stars are starting to appear in the east after sunset, containing some of the most recognizable and popular constellations of the entire sky.
The Great Square of Pegasus, a wonderful guidepost to the Autumn stars, is still prominent in the sky. It can point us to other bright stars and constellations. But now one of the most famous star clusters of the entire sky is rising out of the east: The Pleiades! Popularly known as “The Seven Sisters” from Greek mythology, it’s clearly visible to the naked eye even if you have some suburban sky glow. The Pleiades is best viewed through binoculars, revealing many stars that look more like “80 sisters”! We’ll take a closeup look at this star cluster to see what makes it so special and why everyone knows the name of this cluster in Japanese.
December is also the month that the famous constellation of Orion the Hunter becomes visibe in the eastern sky. As one of the most recognizable constellations, it becomes the key “pointer” for locating other famous Winter stars like Sirius (in the Big Dog), Procyon (in the Little Dog) and Aldebaran (in Taurus the Bull).
The Geminid Meteor Shower comes to a peak on the nights of December 13 and 14. Unfortunately, the Moon will be in a bright phase (a waning gibbous that looks like a bulging ‘half moon’ rising an hour or two after sunset). This will wash out all but the brightest meteors but don’t worry – The Geminids are well known for fast moving fireballs! Best times to observe the Geminids will be late evening and into the early morning hours.