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Kiss the Sky Tonight -- Month of December 2022

Posted by Guy Pirro   12/03/2022 05:13PM

Kiss the Sky Tonight -- Month of December 2022

The Owl Nebula (NGC 3587) is perched in the sky about 2600 light-years away toward the bottom of the Big Dipper's bowl. Also cataloged as M97, its round shape along with the placement of two large, dark "eyes" do suggest the face of a staring owl. One of the fainter objects in Messier's catalog, the Owl Nebula is a planetary nebula, the glowing gaseous envelope shed by a dying sun-like star as it runs out of nuclear fuel. In fact, the Owl Nebula offers an example of the fate of our Sun as it runs out of fuel in another 5 billion years. As we see it, the nebula spans over 2 light-years making it roughly 2000 times the diameter of Neptune's orbit. [Video and Content Credits: NASA, the Office of Public Outreach – Space Telescope Science Institute (STScI), JPL – Caltech, Preston Dyches, Christopher Harris, and Lisa Poje] [Image Credit: Ralph Encarnacion, Astromart Gallery Contributor - Taken from Austin Texas. AP-130F/6, SXV-H9, G11/Gemini, STV autoguider. 10 H-alpha, 3 RGB, all 10 minutes long]


Kiss the Sky Tonight -- Month of December 2022

Welcome to the night sky report for December 2022 -- Your guide to the constellations, deep sky objects, planets, and celestial events that are observable during the month. The Moon sweeps past Jupiter twice this month, and actually covers Mars completely, in an event called an occultation, on December 7th. The event is visible across the U.S., except for the Southeast and East Coast, where the Moon will graze closely past Mars. Step outside on a cold December night when the stars shine bright to find the Big Dipper, Cassiopeia, and Cepheus. They will help you locate a binary star system (Eta Cassiopeiae), a fan-shaped open star cluster (M103 or NGC 581), and a variable star (Mu Cephei). Also, throughout the month, you can find Pegasus, the winged stallion, high overhead in the south. The night sky is truly a celestial showcase. Get outside and explore its wonders from your own backyard.

The month begins and ends with the Moon visiting the giant planets. On December 1st, find the Moon just a couple of finger-widths apart from Jupiter in the evening sky. Then, from the 25th to the 31st, look to the southwest following sunset to see an increasingly full Moon slip past Saturn and then again past Jupiter. Viewers with a clear view to the horizon will be able to search for Venus and Mercury in the fading glow of sunset, just a few degrees above the skyline.



December 7th brings one of those magical moments when the sky changes dramatically before your very eyes. It's called a lunar occultation, as the Moon passes in front of, or occults, the Red Planet Mars. The spectacle will be visible in parts of North America, Europe, and Northern Africa. (Viewers in the Southeast and on the East Coast will see the Moon just graze past Mars.) For viewers in the U.S., Mars disappears behind the Moon sometime between about 6:30 and 9:00 p.m., depending on your location, so check your favorite skywatching app to find the time for your area.

Now, the Moon passes in front of planets in the night sky several times per year. In fact, it generally occults Mars itself at least a couple of times per year. But each occultation is visible from only a small portion of Earth's surface, so it's not super common for any particular spot on Earth to see them frequently.

Of course, the Moon passes in front of stars all the time. If you're watching through binoculars, they just blink right out. But planets are not just points of light like stars – they appear as circular little disks, so planets actually take several seconds to disappear and later reemerge. So if you're in the viewing zone, enjoy this relatively rare opportunity to watch a bright planet being occulted by the Moon.

Looking high in the southwest sky on December evenings, you can find a constellation named for one of the more fantastical beasts of ancient mythology. That's Pegasus, the winged horse. In Greek myth, Pegasus rode into adventures with the hero Belaraphon, and later carried the thunderbolts of Zeus himself, who rewarded him by placing him among the stars.

Pegasus is one of the largest of the 88 constellations. Its most prominent feature, and the key to finding it in the sky, is this asterism, or pattern of stars, called the Great Square. These four stars of roughly equal brightness form the central part of the horse's body.

This December, it's easy to locate Pegasus, thanks to brilliant Jupiter. Face southward to find the giant planet about halfway up the sky, with the Great Square beginning about 15 degrees to the north of it.

Pegasus is a useful constellation for stargazers, as it's a good starting place for finding your way to other features in the night sky. The constellation itself contains a number of dazzling deep-sky objects, including globular cluster M15, and the tangled galaxies of Stephan's Quintet. With this year drawing to a close, here's hoping you seek out the winged stallion Pegasus, as you ponder what new adventures await in the next year.

The long, frosty nights of December make for good sky gazing when the stars shine clear and bright. Face north to find the Big Dipper scraping the northern horizon.

The constellation of Cassiopeia the queen swings high on the other side of Polaris, the North Star. The queen’s star pattern forms a clear “W” or “M” shape in the sky. Snuggled in the M pattern is Eta Cassiopeiae, a binary with a pale yellow Sun-sized star and a less massive orange companion.

Also tucked within the M pattern is the open star cluster M103 or NGC 581. Binoculars or a small telescope show a fan-shaped group of about 170 stars, with a red giant star near the center.



To the east of Cassiopeia lies the fainter constellation of Cepheus, the king. His dim shape looks like the outline of a house. Along the base of the house lies Mu Cephei, a red giant also known as the Garnet Star for its deep red color. It’s also a variable star, changing in brightness over hundreds to thousands of days.

To one side of the house’s base sits NGC 6946, a ragged spiral galaxy that appears as a ghostly patch of light in modest telescopes. NGC 6946 is known as the Fireworks Galaxy because of the frequency of supernovas occurring within it -- ten within the past century. By comparison, the larger Milky Way averages just two per century.

To the west of Cassiopeia we find the sprawling pattern of Perseus, the Greek hero and slayer of

Medusa, whose head he carries. Among Perseus’ stars lies the open star cluster M34. Small telescopes or binoculars show a concentrated scatter of about 100 stars.

Face north to locate the Big Dipper and find galaxy M82. In binoculars and small telescopes, the galaxy appears as a thin rod of light. M82, seen edge-on, experienced a tremendous burst of star formation after an encounter with another galaxy.

Face east to find Orion the hunter with his shining belt rising over the early winter landscape. The glittering stars of winter rise with Orion and promise many fine stargazing nights to come.

The night sky is always a celestial showcase. Explore its wonders from your own backyard.

The following Deep Sky Objects are found in constellations that peak during the month. Some can be viewed with a small telescope, but the majority will require a moderate to large telescope. The following is adapted from my personal viewing list: "The Guy Pirro 777 Best and Brightest Deep Sky Objects."


Constellation: Camelopardalis

IC 342                          Galaxy                         C5

IC 356                          Galaxy                         P127

IC 361                          Open Cluster               P213

IC 3568                        Planetary Nebula         P128

NGC 1501                    Planetary Nebula        Herschel 400 H53-4

NGC 1502                    Open Cluster               Herschel 400 H47-7

NGC 1708                    Open Cluster               P129

NGC 1961                    Galaxy                         Herschel 400 H747-3

NGC 2146                    Galaxy                         P130

NGC 2336                    Galaxy                         P70

NGC 2403                    Galaxy                         C7, Herschel 400 H44-5

NGC 2408                    Open Cluster               P131

NGC 2655                    Galaxy                         Herschel 400 H288-1


Constellation: Cassiopeia

IC 10                            Galaxy                          P77

IC 59                           Diffuse Nebula              P21 - Gamma Cassiopeiae Nebula (West)

IC 63                            Diffuse Nebula             P22 – Gamma Cassiopeiae Nebula (East)

IC 166                          Open Cluster                 P217

IC 1795                        Diffuse Nebula              P122

IC 1805                        Emission Nebula           P2 Heart Nebula

IC 1848                        Emission Nebula           P3 Soul Nebula

IC 1871                        Diffuse Nebula              P136

NGC 103                      Open Cluster                 P137

NGC 129                      Open Cluster                Herschel 400 H79-8

NGC 133                      Open Cluster                P138

NGC 136                      Open Cluster                Herschel 400 H35-6

NGC 146                      Open Cluster                P204

NGC 147                      Galaxy                         C17 Satellite of Andromeda

NGC 185                      Galaxy                         C18, Herschel 400 H707-2 Satellite of Andromeda

NGC 189                      Open Cluster                P5

NGC 225                      Open Cluster                Herschel 400 H78-8 Sailboat Cluster

NGC 278                      Galaxy                          Herschel 400 H159-1

NGC 281                      Emission Nebula          P4 Pacman Nebula

NGC 381                      Open Cluster                Herschel 400 H64-8

NGC 436                      Open Cluster                Herschel 400 H45-7

NGC 457                      Open Cluster                C13, Herschel 400 H42-1 Owl Cluster

NGC 559                      Open Cluster                C8, Herschel 400 H48-7

NGC 581                      Open Cluster                M103

NGC 609                      Open Cluster                P219

NGC 637                      Open Cluster                Herschel 400 H49-7

NGC 654                      Open Cluster                Herschel 400 H46-7

NGC 659                      Open Cluster                Herschel 400 H65-8

NGC 663                      Open Cluster                C10, Herschel 400 H31-6

NGC 1027                    Open Cluster                Herschel 400 H66-8

NGC 7635                    Diffuse Nebula             C11 Bubble Nebula

NGC 7654                    Open Cluster                M52

NGC 7788                    Open Cluster                P139

NGC 7789                    Open Cluster                Herschel 400 H30-6 White Rose Cluster

NGC 7790                    Open Cluster                Herschel 400 H56-7

NGC 7795                    Open Cluster                P23


Constellation: Cepheus

Caldwell 9                   Diffuse Nebula               C9 Cave Nebula

IC 1396                        Open Cluster              P6 Elephant Trunk Cluster

NGC 40                        Planetary Nebula        C2 Herschel 400 H58-4 Bow Tie Nebula

NGC 188                      Open Cluster               C1

NGC 2300                    Galaxy                         P220

     - NGC 2276             Galaxy                              - Paired with P220

NGC 6939                    Open Cluster                Herschel 400 H42-6

NGC 6946                    Galaxy                          C12, Herschel 400 H76-4 Fireworks Galaxy

NGC 7023                    Open Cluster                C4 Iris Nebular Cluster

NGC 7142                    Open Cluster                 Herschel 400 H66-7

NGC 7160                    Open Cluster                 Herschel 400 H67-8

NGC 7226                    Open Cluster                 P140

NGC 7235                    Open Cluster                 P7

NGC 7261                    Open Cluster                 P8

NGC 7380                    Open Cluster                 Herschel 400 H77-8

NGC 7510                    Open Cluster                 Herschel 400 H44-7

NGC 7762                    Open Cluster                 P141


Constellation: Eridanus

IC 1898                        Galaxy                         P228

NGC 1084                    Galaxy                         Herschel 400 H64-1

NGC 1232                    Galaxy                         P28

NGC 1291                    Galaxy                         P29

NGC 1300                    Galaxy                         P81

NGC 1332                    Galaxy                         P82

NGC 1407                    Galaxy                         Herschel 400 H107-1

NGC 1535                    Planetary Nebula         Herschel 400 H26-4

NGC 1537                    Galaxy                         P229 


Constellation: Perseus

IC 348                          Open Cluster                P95

IC 2003                        Planetary Nebula          P237

NGC 650                      Planetary Nebula          M76 Little Dumbell Nebula

NGC 651                      Planetary Nebula          Herschel 400 H193-1 Part of M76

NGC 744                      Open Cluster                P96

NGC 869                      Open Cluster               C14a, Herschel 400 H33-6 Double Cluster (West)

NGC 884                      Open Cluster               C14b, Herschel 400 H34-6 Double Cluster (East)

NGC 957                      Open Cluster               P97

NGC 1023                    Galaxy                        Herschel 400 H156-1

NGC 1039                    Open Cluster               M34 Spiral Cluster

NGC 1220                    Open Cluster               P238

NGC 1245                    Open Cluster               Herschel 400 H25-6

NGC 1275                    Galaxy                         C24 Perseus A Seyfert Galaxy

NGC 1342                    Open Cluster               Herschel 400 H88-8

NGC 1444                    Open Cluster               Herschel 400 H80-8

NGC 1496                    Open Cluster               P174

NGC 1499                    Diffuse Nebula            P44 - California Nebula

NGC 1513                    Open Cluster               Herschel 400 H60-7

NGC 1528                    Open Cluster               Herschel 400 H61-7

NGC 1545                    Open Cluster               Herschel 400 H85-8

NGC 1582                    Open Cluster               P45

NGC 1605                    Open Cluster               P239

NGC 1624                    Open Cluster               P240


Constellation: Taurus

Messier 45                  Open Cluster               M45 Pleiades

Caldwell 41                 Open Cluster               C41 Hyades

IC 1995                        Diffuse Nebula           P64

NGC 1514                    Planetary Nebula        P120

NGC 1554                    Diffuse Nebula            P200 Von Struve’s Lost Nebula

NGC 1555                    Diffuse Nebula            P201 Hind’s Variable Nebula

NGC 1647                    Open Cluster               Herschel 400 H8-8

NGC 1750                    Open Cluster               Herschel 400 H43-8

NGC 1807                    Open Cluster               P65

NGC 1817                    Open Cluster               Herschel 400 H4-7

NGC 1952                    Diffuse Nebula            M1 Crab Nebula


Constellation: Ursa Major

Messier 40                  Double Star                 M40 Winnecke 4

IC 2574                        Galaxy                        P121 Coddington’s Dwarf Galaxy

NGC 2681                    Galaxy                         Herschel 400 H242-1

NGC 2742                    Galaxy                         Herschel 400 H249-1

NGC 2768                    Galaxy                         Herschel 400 H250-1

NGC 2787                    Galaxy                         Herschel 400 H216-1

NGC 2841                    Galaxy                         Herschel 400 H205-1

NGC 2950                    Galaxy                         Herschel 400 H68-4

NGC 2976                    Galaxy                         Herschel 400 H285-1

NGC 2985                    Galaxy                         Herschel 400 H78-1

     - NGC 3027             Galaxy                              - Paired with H78-1

NGC 3031                    Galaxy                         M81 – Bode’s Galaxy

NGC 3034                    Galaxy                         M82, Herschel 400 H79-4 Cigar Galaxy

NGC 3077                    Galaxy                         Herschel 400 H286-1

NGC 3079                    Galaxy                         Herschel 400 H47-5

NGC 3184                    Galaxy                         Herschel 400 H168-1

NGC 3198                    Galaxy                         Herschel 400 H199-1

NGC 3310                    Galaxy                         Herschel 400 H60-4

NGC 3556                    Galaxy                         M108 Herschel 400 H46-5

NGC 3359                    Galaxy                         P202

NGC 3587                    Planetary Nebula        M97 Owl Nebula

NGC 3610                    Galaxy                         Herschel 400 H270-1

NGC 3613                    Galaxy                         Herschel 400 H271-1 Paired with H244-1

NGC 3619                    Galaxy                         Herschel 400 H244-1 Paired with H271-1

NGC 3631                    Galaxy                         Herschel 400 H226-1

NGC 3665                    Galaxy                         Herschel 400 H219-1

     - NGC 3658             Galaxy                              - Paired with H219-1

NGC 3675                    Galaxy                         Herschel 400 H194-1

NGC 3726                    Galaxy                         Herschel 400 H730-2

NGC 3729                    Galaxy                         Herschel 400 H222-1

     - NGC 3718             Galaxy                              - Paired with H222-1

NGC 3813                    Galaxy                         Herschel 400 H94-1

NGC 3877                    Galaxy                         Herschel 400 H201-1

NGC 3893                    Galaxy                         Herschel 400 H738-2

     - NGC 3896             Galaxy                              - Paired with H738-2

NGC 3898                    Galaxy                         Herschel 400 H228-1

NGC 3938                    Galaxy                         Herschel 400 H203-1

NGC 3941                    Galaxy                         Herschel 400 H173-1

NGC 3945                    Galaxy                         Herschel 400 H251-1

NGC 3949                    Galaxy                         Herschel 400 H202-1

NGC 3953                    Galaxy                         Herschel 400 H45-5

NGC 3982                    Galaxy                         Herschel 400 H62-4

NGC 3992                    Galaxy                         M109, Herschel 400 H61-4

NGC 3998                    Galaxy                         Herschel 400 H229-1

     - NGC 3990             Galaxy                              - Paired with H229-1

NGC 4026                    Galaxy                         Herschel 400 H223-1

NGC 4036                    Galaxy                         Herschel 400 H253-1 Paired with H252-1

NGC 4041                    Galaxy                         Herschel 400 H252-1 Paired with H253-1

NGC 4051                    Galaxy                         Herschel 400 H56-4

NGC 4085                    Galaxy                         Herschel 400 H224-1 Paired with H206-1

NGC 4088                    Galaxy                         Herschel 400 H206-1 Paired with H224-1

NGC 4102                    Galaxy                         Herschel 400 H225-1

NGC 4605                    Galaxy                         P252

NGC 5322                    Galaxy                         Herschel 400 H256-1

NGC 5457                    Galaxy                         M101 Pinwheel Galaxy

NGC 5474                    Galaxy                         Herschel 400 H214-1 Paired with M101

NGC 5473                    Galaxy                         Herschel 400 H231-1

NGC 5631                    Galaxy                         Herschel 400 H236-1


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